This is an old expression. It occurs when someone notices that you’re being quiet or seem to be off somewhere in your thoughts. People inquire because they are interested in you and like to be in conversation with you. 

Cindy, my wife, asks, What are you thinking about? I usually say, Not much. And then I realize that while this might be the quick way to respond, it’s not really the most useful way to respond. 

Amy, my daughter, will also call and ask, Dad, what’s going on? Again, I can usually get away with a short answer rather than a longer conversation.

Why do I respond this way? Mostly it’s just a quick reaction to the moment. It’s not that I’m purposely choosing to not talk. My personal conversational style is to be fairly quiet. Over the years I’ve found that most people won’t press me to talk. It’s simply a matter of comfort and past patterns.

Still, my reasons for not saying much when asked don’t matter. What matters is that someone I care about invited me into a conversation.

I want to continually add value to the relationships that are most important to me. That means that if someone asks me a question or checks in with how I’m doing, I take the position that I’m obligated to respond. It’s my job to find some thing to say—something to share with them. 

Often, we don’t notice that we tend to give short answers or be non-responsive until our children do it to us. Wonder where they learned it? 

Here’s what I recommend: Begin to notice when you are invited to participate in a conversation. Then notice whether your response is supportive and adds value.

“…relationships need to be two way—not equal, necessarily, but with both parties speaking as well as listening. So just as we notice we’re getting short answers from our kids, they notice when we’re giving them short answers.”  From page 139