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How to Turn Water into Lemonade by Giving a Flavored Answer to a Fruitless Question

I remember the first time I opened the fridge to get a drink of water and accidentally grabbed the wrong pitcher...


Ahhh! Lemonade! My cheeks tingled from the surprising tart flavor as I gulped down an unexpected swig of Country Time.

Woooo-weee! That woke me up at 6 in the morning!

When it comes to conversation, giving flavored answers to fruitless questions works the same way. Think about your responses to ritual questions like "How are you?" "What's up?" "How's business?" or "How you doin?" (If you live in New York City)

What's your answer? Good? Great? Grand? Wonderful? Perhaps you use the ever popular fine.

Guess what? Your answers are BOR-ing! In fact, fine is probably the worst of the lot - it can mean anything! For example, last summer I went to a Cardinals game on a warm Sunday afternoon and felt fine until I vomited from eating 4 orders of nachos...after which I told my girlfriend I felt fine. (F.I.N.E is actually an acronym for "Feelings I'm Not Expressing)

Nevertheless, these close-ended, one syllable words are conversation killers. They offer limited spice to your encounters. And most of the time, people use them as fast getaways to be polite, say hello, and get on with their isolated lives.

On the other hand, when you offer a flavored answer to a fruitless question, it magnetizes people. It makes you more approachable. People won't be able to resist talking to you because you will be so darn sweet! In other words, you will turn water into lemonade.

Fine Doesn't Sell Couches
I first tried flavored answers a few years ago when I sold furniture in Portland. As a salesman, it was my job to greet every person that came through the store. Daily, my opener to customers was a simple, "Good morning, how are ya?"

People responded with "Good," "Fine," "Excellent," or whatever bland, monosyllabic pseudo emotion that disguised their real feelings which ended the conversation so the annoying salesman would walk away.

But then, they'd ask the same question back to me. I would respond with such flavored answers as "Exhausted from lifting couches," "This place is a circus on Sundays!" or "I'm hopped up on sugar from our free donuts!"

No customer ever walked away from me! No customer felt uncomfortable! And no customer avoided eye contact so he wouldn't have to talk to some pushy salesman.

But every customer had fun. Every customer smiled. And every customer engaged with and related to me as they eventually offered their real states of mind.

Then all of the sudden, my sales skyrocketed! Customers loved me! We got to know each other through engaging, fun conversations which made the sales process relaxed and personable. And all I did was give a flavored answer to a fruitless question. (Therein lies a mini sales lesson on building rapport with your customers!)

Your flavored answers must also have a mixture of the right ingredients. Here are seven characteristics that will lay a foundation from which you can create your own flavor. Read these, and soon you will be turning water into lemonade with only a few words!

MAKE YOUR ANSWER...original. Become known for the way you answer mundane questions with something unique and creative. When I saw George Carlin in concert, he told the audience this: "I hate answering the same stupid, mundane questions in the same, stupid way. So I've decided that every month, I will use a new adjective just to keep my answers fresh. This month, it's ubiquitous."

MAKE YOUR ANSWER...a personification of your attitude. People can learn a great deal about your attitudes and values simply by the way you reply to "How are you doing?" What's more, flavored answers to fruitless questions are self-fulfilling prophecies: tell someone you're "On top of the world," and you just might find yourself there.

MAKE YOUR ANSWER...surprising. Say something completely unexpected. Say the exact opposite of what the person expects to hear. Several years ago I was wearing a Michigan Football hat the day after Ohio State demolished them 49-10. A man wearing an Ohio jersey approached me, rudely got in my face and with utter arrogance said, "Hey man - did you see the Ohio State/Michigan game last night?!"

"No, I don't like sports."

He was silenced. Dumfounded. A complete a loss for words! I smiled back and he ended up changing the subject after which we had a friendly conversation.

MAKE YOUR ANSWER...appealing. Use your smile, tone of voice and even touch to activate and enliven the senses. This combination of words and actions will make your answers almost seem three dimensional! My friend Samantha once suggested the idea of having "National High Five Day" in order to make conversations more fun! Now that would add some flavor to the fruitless!

MAKE YOUR ANSWER...memorable. Discover words that differentiate you. Millions of conversations take place every minute. So, what can you say that resonates in someone's heart that they haven't already heard 20 times today? I'll never forget the time I asked an elderly man, "How are you?" to which he replied, "I'm old, I'm Italian, and I'm rich!"

MAKE YOUR ANSWER...honest and open. People are afraid to disclose the way they really feel in response to mundane, ritual questions because: there's little time to do so, revealing emotions doesn't seem worth it, or "fine" is just the first word that comes out of their mouths. This isn't conducive to much reciprocation or flow in your conversation.

But have you ever gone out of your way to truly answer openly and honestly? Here's an example that demonstrates the reciprocal nature of self-disclosure.

A few months ago I was working the lobby door at the Ritz Carlton when my eyelids just about closed on me. I was exhausted from working all day. As a guest rapidly approached the hotel I greeted him with, "Welcome in sir, how are you this evening?"

"Fine, how are you?" he quickly replied.


He almost flew right past me, but the moment that word came out of my mouth he stopped in his tracks! He looked back with a tilted-head smile and said, "Yeah? I guess I'm kinda tired too. I had a long day of meetings and I just want to get some sleep."

That's odd?I thought he was "fine."

Cherise the Waitress
About once a month I eat at a restaurant in St. Louis called Ozzie's, named after the great Cardinals shortstop. This is where I first met Cherise. One day, after taking note of my "ready to order" behavior, she walked over to my table.

"Good afternoon, my name is Cherise - how are you today?"

"I'm awesome, how about yourself?"

"I'm blessed, thanks for asking!"

Wait a sec. Did she just say "blessed"?

"Excuse me Cherise, but did I just hear you say 'blessed'?"

"Yes I did! I'm just so fortunate to be blessed in all areas of my life and I love to share that with all of my customers!"

Wow. Now that's a flavored answer. I inquired further about Cherise's "blessed" life and discovered she was not only a waitress but a musician who was in the process of signing her first record contract.

Now?in my life, I've had somewhere in the neighborhood of 30 bazillion waitresses. Give or take a few. But I never had anyone like Cherise. Her original answer turned water into lemonade because she created memorable presence. Once she said "I'm blessed, thanks for asking!" I no longer saw her as a waitress, but as a magnification of God's love whom I would never forget.

Henry the Bellman
I met Henry during one of my first shifts at the Ritz Carlton St. Louis. You can't miss the guy: fifty five years old, six-foot-six and always smiling! One evening as I waited by the front door, I noticed Henry strutting in my direction. As he passed by, I quickly glanced at his nametag and introduced myself, "Hi Henry, I'm Scott - how ya' doin?"

I'll never forget what he said next: "Alright! Everything is beautiful!"

Hmmm?awfully chipper for someone about to work 11 PM ? 7 AM, wouldn't you say? I later discovered that Henry had been the overnight bellman for more than 10 years. He strutted into work every night at 11:00 PM, and didn't leave until every shoe was polished, every bag was delivered and every guest got his newspaper. And Henry always had a smile on his face.

I found Henry's flavored answer to be incredibly magnetic because it surprised me. The overnight bellman is not the most glamorous of positions; it's not the most profitable and it's certainly not the most recognized. But Henry doesn't care. To Henry, everything is beautiful. Even if it's late at night. Even if there's a million things to do. Everything is beautiful. And to this day, Henry still says that same sentence every time I see him.

Jeffery the Salesman
Last year I attended Jeffrey Gitomer's sales seminar. During one of the modules in his presentation, Jeffery spoke about using positive sales verbiage. He asked the audience to chorally respond to mundane questions like "How is business?" or "What's new with work?"

Most people in the audience yelled "Business is slow," "It's picking up," or "Well, the economy is down."

"Your answers suck!!" Jeffery said.

"You're in sales to make money!" he continued, "So when people ask 'How is business?' say something like, "Cashin' checks baby!"

Now, keep in mind Jeffery isn't your typical salesman, so his answers won't work for everybody. But his flavored responses are honest,open and funny. And I am lucky enough to call Jeffery one of my friends, so I will attest that as a person, he is honest, open and funny. Therefore his answers also personify his attitude.

Now that you have discovered which ingredients will enhance your flavor, you are ready to turn water into lemonade. Whether you're with a customer, making a new friend, on a date or networking with colleagues, here are the six benefits that you will receive when you offer flavored answers to fruitless questions.

YOUR ANSWER someone that you care. This is undoubtedly the most important virtue of communication. The openness and honesty of your flavored answer will show someone that you value the conversation, and therefore, them as a person.

YOUR ANSWER WILL...make a good first impression. We spend so much time on our appearance, dress and behaviors that we often overlook the importance of the first five seconds. This is the amount of time during which people decide if they like you or not.

YOUR ANSWER trust. Self-disclosure ? the act of making yourself manifest ? is reciprocal commensurate with the amount of information you reveal. So, whether you're at a sales meeting, on a date or joining a club, give part of yourself to the other person immediately. They will do the same, and as a result you will feel like you've known each other for years!

YOUR ANSWER WILL...remind people that talking to you was worth it. Have you ever left a conversation with someone and said, "Boy?I'm sure glad I talked to him!"? Now, what if everyone starting saying that about you?

YOUR ANSWER WILL...trigger someone's psychological need to be included. I don't care how much of a rush, how bad of a day or how tired people are ? they need be included and engage with each other.

YOUR ANSWER WILL...magnetize people to you. How could anyone hear the words "Everything is beautiful" and not be completely drawn to the person who said it?

Make 'Em Tingle
Every time someone asks a fruitless question like "How are you?" "What's up?" or "How's business?" they expect to hear you say "fine." They expect to have their level of conversational depth reciprocated. In other words, they expect water.

But you're not going to give them water, are you? Negative. You are going to turn water into lemonade by offering a flavored answer to a fruitless question. You are going to give a surprising, honest, appealing, memorable and fun answer that personifies your attitude so they can walk away from your conversation feeling that special tingle.

© 2005 All Rights Reserved.

Scott Ginsberg is a professional speaker, "The World's Foremost Expert on Nametags" and the author of HELLO my name is Scott and The Power of Approachability. He helps people MAXIMIZE their approachability and become UNFORGETTABLE communicators - one conversation at a time. For more information contact Front Porch Productions at

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