The One Question We Need to Stop Asking

Is everything okay?

There’s no question I hate more than that. The background assumption is if I’m not responding to your email (and it’s always email) that there must be something wrong. I must not be okay. Part of the reason this irks me is because it’s not something a man would ask.

How do women intend to be on parity with men if they are coming from a deficit perspective?

Most men or the most direct among us would ask, “Did you get my email? Call me after 2:30.” They would never ask, “are you okay,” unless maybe you were on a ski trip and somehow didn’t make it to the lodge in time for happy hour.

Nobody has to tell me there’s inequity in the workplace. I grew up in sales and trading. The ratio of women to men was 3 to 86. As my career progressed to where I was President of an Inc. 500 fast-growing company, I got tired of hearing all that was missing for women to advance.

In sales, there’s the assumptive close.

The assumptive close is literally that. At a certain point in an interaction with a prospective client, you assume you’re going to close the deal. You either ask for a signature or a kick-off call to start the engagement. Quite simply, you believe you’re doing business with that person. At the core of that technique is positivity.

What if instead of asking if someone is okay, you opened with, “What’s going on in your life that’s keeping you from responding to my email?” “Did you get my email?” Or even, “Are you taking a day off to relax?”

ANYTHING but, are you ok?

The University of Pennsylvania esteemed professor Martin Seligman founder of Positive Psychology has studied the connection between positivity and performance in their work, including whether they attributed failed sales to personal deficits beyond their control or circumstances they could improve with effort. Optimistic people sold 37% more policies than pessimists, who were twice as likely to leave the company during the first year of employment.

Seligman has researched positivity or the ability to transform a tendency toward pessimistic thinking into positive thinking through simple techniques that create lasting changes in behavior. Seligman asserts your brain needs a little help to defeat the negative self-talk.

Perhaps it is overly critical of me to call out my female colleagues and friends as I’m doing, but research shows that positivity engenders results. What if we started with an assumptive close that the reason I’m not responding is that I’m simply doing other things?

What makes me most angry about this is that I assert women ask this not because they’re natural-born worrierers, but because they’ve internalized negative perceptions of themselves thrust upon them by society, the media, and undeclared expectations of the roles they are to fulfill for others. I say this because men don’t talk about themselves in the same way as women.

Men don’t judge their performance in the same way because they don’t have to. 

I don’t want to come off self-righteous or patronizing to my fellow women, but I do want to point out the limitations of language. Language creates a world, and if the world you are creating is one of scarcity, then the background context is one of lack. Receiving emails asking about my well-being in the middle of the day is like taking a blow from a blunt instrument to the side of my head.

I say that because I am one of the busiest and productive people you will ever meet. I have been a hard worker my entire life, and my grit and business acumen have yielded great success. The negative images about women’s bodies are estimated to be 97% negative vs. 3% positive.

That’s just one stat. We don’t need to pile on one another; instead, we need to celebrate and assume positive intent.

Erin Gibson