A few days back I was with a friend at one of Chicago’s venerable Jewish delis. The place was a mad house as it was Sunday around 1pm.

In typical, waitress-like, hustle and bustle mode, our server came to the table, asked if we were ready to order and barely made eye contact. It was evident she had about three hundred things on her mind and our order was another item on her ever-growing to-do list.

As she wrote down the final special order request (ok, so I can be a bit difficult when I go out to eat – ‘well done this, hold that, and please make this like…’) she grabbed our menus and was just about to step away.

Right before she was set to sprint off and get our order into the system, my friend politely asked her this question: “Do you mind if I ask you something?” Looking annoyed, yet curious, she responded, “Sure.”

The next question was pure, yet simple brilliance. He asked, “How are you?” Taken aback for a moment, you could literally see the air come out of her lungs. “Thanks for asking,” she said. “Things are busy, but I guess that’s good, right?”

“Of course it is,” my friend replied. He then continued, “What’s your name?”

“Sandra.”

“Nice to meet you Sandra, I’m Thomas and this is my friend Steve. What brings you here on a Sunday?” he said with a shy smile. (Now mind you, Thomas, is not your average guy… 6’ 4”, solid build, perfectly quaffed ‘fro, smart as hell, and there’s no doubt the ladies like him.)

She replied, “Just trying to pay my way through school.”

The conversation ended shortly thereafter, but our relationship shifted from that of crazy busy waitress and starving, demanding customers to friends. Needless to say, the tenor from that moment forward was dramatically different.

And all Thomas did was ask, “How are you?” Three, three letter words followed by a question mark… changed everything.

One of my favorite advertisements I remember from childhood said, “The difference between a friend and a stranger is… a conversation.” Now, mind you, I can’t remember what was being sold, but that line has stuck with me to this day.

In that pure, glorious moment, Thomas paused, asked her to join him in the present moment and humanized our experience.

Think about the power of the pause the next time life is coming at you at 110 mph. Take a step back and breathe. It really can make all the difference.