How are you holding up? – When to ask and how to answer

Posted On: April 11, 2020

When times are stressful or life is challenging, especially during our #stayathome and lockdown times, people may ask each other “How are you holding up?” to start a conversation. Learn more about this question, how it compares to the small talk opener “How are you?” and how to answer it. [Transcript of the video follows.]


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How are you holding up? – When to ask and how to answer (Video Transcript)


[00:00:02] Hello, everyone. I’m Jennifer Kumar from Authentic Journeys. I want to share with you about a question that people in English can use to start a conversation with each other during difficult times and when they want to empathize with another person and when they’re going through some difficult thing. And I’m also going to compare this question to another very common small talk question. So the question in question is, “How are you holding up?”

[00:00:34] How are you holding up?

[00:00:38] So this question might sound a little familiar to another very common American small talk question. How are you? “How are you?” is part of both of these questions. But there’s a big difference between these two questions and when they are asked and the response that is supposed to be given.

How are you holding up in these trying times?

So when someone just asks, how are you, whether it’s by chat or casually passing you by on the street or in the office, we can answer with, “Oh, yeah, I’m OK. How are you?” We don’t have to give a long answer. It’s not expected of us to give a long answer. It’s not expected of us to tell a story about our day or exactly how we’re feeling if we’re not feeling good. We don’t say, “I’m not feeling good.” We could just say, “Oh, it could be better.”

But however, alternatively, with the question, how are you holding up? The asker tends to want to know about the other person and probably expects to hear a couple sentences as an answer. So this question, “How are you holding up?” it’s not used in a general small talk scenario. It’s asked when the person asking it understands already that the person that they’re asking it to, too is going through a very difficult time. They’re facing a lot of stress, maybe a lot of different stressful things are happening at one time. And they know that the person, you know is not having the best time right now. So, for instance, it’s March twenty seventh, twenty twenty.

[00:02:20] Many of us in the world are locked down or shut in our house under quarantine. So if someone were to ask me, “Jennifer, how are you holding up?” This could be an answer, I could say.

[00:02:33] “Well, you know, I wish it was different, but it’s kind of stressful because we can’t really go out and do the normal things we want to do, even grocery shopping, we can only do it like once a week. The other thing that’s been kind of bothering me is that we had an earthquake in Salt Lake City last week and there’s been aftershocks almost every single day, multiple aftershocks for about the last eight, eight or nine days. And I haven’t been getting a lot of sleep because of that. And also, you know, worrying about my friends and family in other places that maybe have limited mobility now just like me.”

[00:03:11] So you can see the answer is long-ger definitely. And it’s more descriptive. It talks more about what I might be experiencing, what I might be feeling, what I might be thinking, whereas the answer to “How are you?” doesn’t and shouldn’t have any of those details typically. Now, let’s say you’re asking me, “How am I holding up?” I give that answer to you or whoever you’re talking to. Gives you a longer answer.

[00:03:39] How do you respond to that?

[00:03:41] Pick something in their answer and ask a question about it or share a similar experience so you can empathize with that person based on what they said in their answer. So, for example, a question could be..

[00:03:55] “Oh, you had an earthquake. What was that like? I’ve never experienced an earthquake.”


How are you holding up? - When to ask and how to answer


[00:03:59] Or.. So that’s the question you could ask. That’s one alternative. The other is to make a statement, kind of and then based on what the person said, and then they will continue the conversation.

[00:04:13] “Yeah, I know what you mean. Even I can’t go grocery shopping. And you know, I didn’t really stock up before we were asked to stay inside. So I’m a little bit concerned about when I’m going to go out to get my groceries.”

[00:04:27] And then the conversation will continue. So this is a very, you know, important question that you could ask somebody in times of stress or they’re not feeling good. A lot of not so good things are happening to them at the moment. You can ask “How are you holding up?” Do not ask, “How are you?” that’s for everyday, ordinary small talk conversations in a work environment, casual environment, etc..

[00:04:57] So, I’m Jennifer Kumar from Authentic Journeys. I help you build your virtual teams. I help you build relationships on your virtual teams. Even in tough times like this, when you are definitely trying to be holding up and keeping your team together. I can help you improve that team bonding through some really good coaching and activity building. So get in touch with me at authentic journeys dot info or info at authentic journeys dot info. Thanks for listening. See you again. Bye.


Jennifer Kumar, creator of the training program, Building Trust and Good Relationships with US Americans is a perfect program that can be delivered in 3-8 hours (seminar up to interactive practicum) for teams outside of the US working with US Americans.


Related Post:
How to start an online chat with a person from the USA
Tips to work from home effectively in virtual environments
Check out more video lessons on US culture and language here



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