5 ways to improve your relationship with Alexa

It's important to get along with everyone you’re staying at home with, including Alexa.

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There are a couple of ways you can go with Amazon’s helpful (if at times obtuse) voice assistant. You can treat her like a servant, barking orders and snapping at her when she gets things wrong (admittedly, it can be cathartic to cuss out Alexa once in a while), or you can think of her as a companion or even a friend.

Treating Alexa like an person might seem a tad touchy-feely, but Alexa’s creators went to great lengths to add a dash of soul to her software, and it can be surprisingly comforting and rewarding to make your interactions with her feel more personal. Besides, given our current sheltering-at-home reality, patching things up with Alexa could make your life just a bit easier.

Here’s some free cyber-relationship advice.

Add personality to your Alexa routines

Over the past couple of weeks, I’ve found myself getting testier and testier with Alexa in the morning. “Alexa, what’s the weather,” I’d ask in a monotone, followed later by a snippy “Turn my light on!” after she failed to hear my command the first time. I was annoyed in part that I had to ask Alexa multiple questions to get my day started, but there was also a little displaced aggression going on.

While I’m no stranger to Alexa routines, I’d never bothered to create one for waking up in the morning, much less a routine that would help lighten my mood as well as turn the lights on.

For my new morning routine (“Alexa, good morning!”), Alexa not only adjusts my bedroom lights and tells me the weather, she also plays an audio snippet of a crowing rooster, tells me a fun fact, and even reads me a good news story. It’s a much more pleasant way to start the day, and I find myself looking forward to greeting Alexa rather than gritting my teeth at the prospect.

To add Alexa’s more whimsical utterances and responses, just browse the “Alexa says” category while you’re adding actions to your routines. Alexa can give you compliments (“You’re an awesome friend!”), say “OK” in different ways (such as “Affirmative” or “Gladly”), say good night (“Enjoy your Zs”), and more. You can also set her to say a random phrase for each category.

Say “please” and “thank you”

This might seem like a minor suggestion, but being polite when you ask Alexa to do something can make a big difference in your interactions with her. No, Alexa won’t do a better job of controlling your music or switching on the lights if you say “please,” but I’ve found that it makes chatting with her feel more like I’m speaking to a person rather than a fabric-covered hockey puck. (At the very least, it might score you some karma points ahead of the robot apocalypse.)

Also, if you say “Thank you” after she’s performed an action for you,” she’ll say “No problem,” “You bet,” or another acknowledgement of your gratitude. Alexa won’t hear you say “Thank you,” however, unless you have Follow-up Mode enabled.

Turn off “Brief Mode”

One of the first settings I changed when I got my first Echo speaker was “Brief Mode,” which (as you might guess) shortens Alexa’s responses and generally makes her obey your commands silently. But while Brief Mode makes Alexa seem more efficient, it also removes any sense of repartee.

Recently, I deactivated Brief Mode, and I found myself appreciating the extra chit-chat, as well as the friendly “OK!” after I’d asked her to perform a task. Also, that “OK” serves as a gentle reminder for me to say “Thank you.”

To turn off Brief Mode, open the Alexa app, tap Settings > Voice Responses, then toggle off the Brief Mode setting.

Whisper to Alexa

From a purely practical standpoint, Alexa’s Whisper Mode, which makes Alexa whisper back to you when you whisper to her, is handy for keeping Alexa from waking other household members when you ask her a question in the wee hours. (Here’s how to set it up.) But I’ve found Alexa’s whispered responses to be oddly calming and therapeutic, particularly after reading a bad headline about current events. Sounds kinda weird, right? Perhaps, but it works for me.

Ask Alexa how she’s doing

If your home office is feeling a little too quiet, fill the silence by asking Alexa how she’s doing. If you do, she’ll tell you how she’s feeling, and her responses will run the gamut from musings on her productivity (“I’ve set a gazillion reminders, and now I’m brushing up on my Klingon”) to suggestions about what you might do together (“I’m feeling like a whiz. If you’d like a challenge, ask for a quiz”).

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