Although they’re both, technically, “open-ended” questions, they’re different questions and I attribute different motivations to them (whether my attributions are correct or not is a different story). The first, “how was your day,” seems to call for a short answer, something like “Good, thanks, very productive, how was yours? ” It’s a closed question masquerading as an open. The asker is looking for the headline – thumbs up or thumbs down on the day, just give me the big picture.
The second, “what did you work on today,” could still invite a short answer, yet it asks more of me – I have to think for a moment about what I did during the day and synthesize for sharing. It asks for more details than “how was your day?” A likely answer might be, “Well, mostly proposals, and then there were a couple of meetings about marketing, and then I worked on a client deliverable.”
The first question probably doesn’t give the asker much room for a follow up question. The second probably does.
OK, magic carpet, we’re transported to an event in which we’re meeting other business people – prospects, friends, and referral sources. Here in Boston, after the usual first question, “Can you believe the Red Sox are six games out?”, the next most frequently asked question is probably, “So, how’s business?” This, you may be quick to see, is like “How was your day?” only shorter. Same likely answer length: “We’re doing this, we’re doing that, we’re holding our own,” whatever.
However, if we ask, “What have you been working on this week?” or “What do you have on your desk at this point?” we’re likely to get a different answer. We’re opening up much more room for discussion and follow up questions – How’s that going? How did that end up on your desk? What other sorts of issues are you seeing? And so on. To my ear, it shows a much higher level of interest than “how’s business” or “how was your day?”
So, ix-nay on the “How was your day at the office, honey?”