Others ask you how you're doing all the time, and your answer is most likely something like "Fine. How are you?"

You can do better than that.

Yet, you might wonder why sharpening yourself in this area evens matters. For one thing, it's an opportunity for you to present yourself as someone who's interesting and worth having a conversation with. And regardless of who's asking, you want them to leave the interaction thinking highly of you, not merely neutral, or worse, with the perception that you're a bore.

I checked in with several high-achieving executives who operate in the arenas of sales and content creation--people who excel at telling stories. Here's their advice on the subject.

Never answer "How are you?" with "busy"

This is the worst way to respond, says Roy Raanani, CEO of Chorus.ai, a conversation intelligence platform for sales teams, because it's an answer probably everyone could give. "Between work, personal life, family commitments and even pets, we all have a million and one things pulling us in a different direction," he says. "When you say 'busy,' you're immediately setting a negative tone for the next few moments in a conversation and discouraging real connection."

Avoid negativity

This is especially true for anyone with whom you have a professional relationship. "You should avoid answering this question with a negative comment unless you're truly close with the person you're speaking to," says Meghan Stewart, senior director of B2C residential sales for Paintzen, an online platform for vetting and booking qualified painters for home improvement projects. "It tarnishes the conversation before it's even begun and makes others feel uncomfortable." Instead, can you find something positive coming up in your future that you're looking forward to which you can talk about?

Explain why you're fine and then keep the conversation going

"I'm fine" is the answer everyone gives, but you should be able to find something great in your day which proves the point. Did you knock out a great workout before showing up at the office? Have you received good news within the last week? Did you just enjoy a satisfying meal which you can describe?

And according to Rachel Downey, president of Share Your Genius, a B2B podcasting agency with 300,000 downloads, any answer that focuses only on yourself and ends the conversation without inviting the other person to share is a missed opportunity. "The question itself is an invitation to engage, and engaging should always involve inviting the person asking the question to be a part of the conversation," she says. "Don't shrug it off and don't burn the opportunity with a short, closed-ended answer."

Answer with a hook

Meaning, answer in a way which gets the other person to ask another question. Matthew Pollard, serial entrepreneur, business coach and bestselling author of The Introvert's Edge, described it in his book, wherein he tells the story of being asked by a salesperson how his Thanksgiving was. He replied, "Oh, it was good. Just cut short." This is the hook, Pollard explains, because naturally the other guy wanted to know why it had been cut short. He writes:  

I then said, "Well, I had to go to bed early Thursday night as I had two TV interviews early the next morning. Of course, the rest of the family stayed up late enjoying themselves and making a racket laughing, so I got no sleep."

"I had to roll into KXAN at 5:30 and then into the FOX studio at 7:15. Another guest at FOX recognized me from my 5:30 segment and struck up a conversation. He asked, 'How are you getting all of this free media? It cost me a lot of money for the opportunity to get on this show.' I told him I'm just really good at finding the right hook and telling a good story to the news desk."

"Anyway, long story short, he asked me to come in for a whiteboard session at his company yesterday to explain what I was doing. After the session, they were so impressed that they asked me if I'd be interested in speaking at their convention, which is one of the biggest stages in America."

"So, in short, my Thanksgiving got cut into a bit, but all in all, it worked out great."

Pollard says this strategy works because people love hearing stories. "In fact, Dr. Uri Hasson at Princeton uncovered evidence of what's called 'neural coupling' [which is] when we listen to a story, our brains begin to synchronize with the storyteller's," he says. "Basically, it short-circuits the person's logical brain and creates the feeling of almost instant rapport."

People remember not what you say, but how you make them feel

That's according to executive coach Susan Inouye and author of "Leadership's Perfect Storm: What Millennials Are Teaching Us about Possibilities, Passion and Purpose." She says the key is being authentically present when someone engages with you. "When we truly connect with others and speak from our hearts, even the words, 'I'm fine' sounds and feels differently," she says. "It's not what you say, but how you say it."

Regardless of your answer, listen to and remember what the other person says

The most memorable people in life are the ones who give you attention and remember the details of your life. They're also the individuals who are skilled at telling stories, which makes them sought after as friends, partners and business associates. So, when you're having small talk with anyone, stop what you're doing, be present in the moment and take mental note of what you hear. "And if someone shares personal information, do your best to remember it," Raanani says. "It can make someone's day to know that whatever they shared has resonated and that you took the time to bring it back up."

Published on: Nov 18, 2019
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.