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Thoughtful Questions to Ask When Checking In With Friends and Coworkers During a Crisis | COVID-19 Small Talk

When your friend, coworker, or acquaintance is going through a difficult time, you probably want to check in to see how they’re doing.

But you may worry that your questions will bring up an uncomfortable or upsetting topic.

When you’re not sure what to say, it may feel easier to say nothing at all.

However, most people appreciate your efforts to connect when they’re experiencing a crisis.

During challenging moments, we need more reassurance than ever that the people in our lives care about us and support us.

We may want to discuss what we’re going through, or we might be looking for the opportunity to talk about something different for a change.

Let’s talk about thoughtful questions you can ask to check in with someone who is experiencing a crisis or challenging moment in their life.

In this article, we’ll discuss two types of conversation questions:

  • questions that focus on how the person is feeling during the crisis; and
  • questions that focus on the present moment.

Reconnecting During the COVID-19 Pandemic

Right now, we’re experiencing a global crisis as a result of the coronavirus and COVID-19.

Even though many of us are spending more time at home, this shared experience is encouraging many people to reach out and reconnect with old friends and colleagues.

However, given the many ways this crisis is impacting us, you may not be sure of the best way to approach them right now.

As you start a conversation, remember to listen carefully to how the other person is responding to your questions.

Pay attention to subtle cues that signal which topics are welcome, and which they’d prefer not to discuss.

Let’s get started!

Thoughtful Questions About How The Other Person is Feeling

How are you, really?

At other moments in time, this question probably felt quite empty and meaningless.

As you walked into an office, store, or restaurant, someone would greet you by calling out “How are you?” — without expecting to hear an honest answer.

However, during a time of crisis, people truly want to hear how you’re doing.

You can add and emphasize the word “really” to assure the other person that you’re listening to the answer.

How are you doing in [your city/region]?

In a global health crisis like the coronavirus pandemic, the entire world is experiencing a similar situation.

However, the impact varies widely based on where you live.

When checking in with friends, family, and colleagues around the world, it can be helpful to specify “in your city/region.”

This helps focus the conversation on the unique circumstances in each of your physical locations.

You may choose to compare and discuss responses by regional governments or how the local community is handling the situation.

After a natural disaster like a hurricane, earthquake, tsunami, or flooding, the impact also varies widely by location.

If you also experienced this crisis, you may want to find out if their experience was similar to or different from yours.

Or you may recognize that the news is focusing on one location in particular, but still want to know how your friend is doing where they live.

If you want to acknowledge the fact that the current global crisis is probably impacting the other person’s state of mind, try one of these questions:

How are you handling things?

When you both know that something is challenging, you can use the word “things” instead of naming the problem directly. 

This makes the question less “loaded” and difficult to answer.

It allows the other person to choose what they want to talk about first.

How are you handling [social distancing / quarantine / isolation / lockdown / working from home / homeschooling]?

Alternatively, you can ask about how the current crisis is impacting a specific area of the other person’s life. 

Naming what you’re curious about gives you both a place to start the conversation.

The word “handling” suggests that this change requires adjustment and effort.

Here are a few more related questions:

  • How are you coping?
  • How are you holding up?
  • How are you dealing with things?

All of these questions inquire about the other person’s well-being and mental and emotional state. 

Choosing words like “coping,” “holding up,” and “dealing with things” recognizes that what they’re going through is hard.

These questions show you’re open to talking about their feelings, while being sensitive to the fact that they might not want to.

How can I support you during this time?

If you find that your friend, acquaintance, or coworker is struggling, and you want to offer your help, try this question. 

This reminds the other person that you are there for them

They know exactly what support they need, and can tell you what you can do to help.

Small Talk Questions About the Present Moment

Once you’ve had a chance to inquire about how the other person is feeling, you can move on to other conversation questions.

During a challenging time, making small talk about something other than the crisis can help restore a sense of normalcy.

Talking about the present moment can get both of your minds off the bigger concerns, and focus your attention on what’s happening right now.

Here are some questions you can ask to find out how they’ve been spending their time.

How’s your day been? 

This short-and-sweet question is an excellent way to start a conversation because it focuses on what has been happening today.

As an open-ended question, it allows the other person to decide what to talk about.

You can judge how open they are to the conversation by how much they share when responding.

Here are some variations on this small talk question:

  • How’s your morning been?
  • How’s your week been?
  • How’s your month been?

(For more ideas on what to ask and how to answer the question, check out my detailed video lesson on YouTube.)

What have you been up to?

If it has been a while since you last talked with someone, you can ask this simple but engaging question. 

This means you want to hear about their life since the last time you checked in

In the current situation, it also recognizes that your usual routine has totally changed.

Once again, it allows the other person to decide how much or how little they want to share.

(Check out this video for more variations on the question.)

What are you spending more time on these days?

During a crisis like the current pandemic, our day-to-day lives look really different than they did a couple of months ago.

Because your priorities have shifted, you may be spending more time with your family, working or studying online, or doing indoor hobbies.

This question often leads to a deeper conversation.

What are you currently working on/doing/reading/watching/listening to/playing?

If you’re checking in with a coworker or colleague, you may be interested in talking about your current projects. 

If you’re talking to a friend, you might want to talk about their interests or get suggestions for entertainment. 

Again, this question brings us back to now

You’ll also find out what’s most important to your friend, coworker, family member, or acquaintance.

What’s keeping you busy these days?

This question is another way to show curiosity about how the other person is spending their time. 

The other person will probably share a few details about how their life looks right now so that the conversation can evolve from there

If you have been out of touch until recently, you might not know the answer, so it helps you get reacquainted.

(This video will help you better understand this question.)

Your Turn

Remember, there is no right question to ask when you want to check in and connect with someone. 

You’re just trying to get the conversation started.

What you decide to talk about will flow from there.

Now it’s your turn!

How are you doing? How are you handling this new reality? How have you been spending your time at home?

Leave a comment and let me know.

Want even more ideas on thoughtful, engaging questions to ask when starting a conversation in American English? Check out this series on making small talk.

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