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“that’s a great question” is not an answer

Posted on October 19, 2014

“That’s a great question!”

I hear this phrase frequently from clients. Usually said with both emphasis and fake enthusiasm. And every time I do, I feel impatient.

I know it’s a great question. That’s the only kind I ask. ;)

However, chances are, you are not really complimenting me on my question-asking abilities. More often than not, I did not ask a GREAT question. I asked a TOUGH question.

Yet with this response at the tip of your tongue, you are hardly moving the conversation forward. One article goes as far as suggesting that using this phrase makes you look elusive and slippery. Ouch.

question

So, when did “that’s a great question” become a stock answer? What are you actually trying to do?

I’m willing to bet that it’s one of the following:

S – STALL
aka “I have not thought about it”.

When you have not given a particular issue a lot (or any) consideration, you may find yourself using this phrase to buy more time. This is a common and easily spotted technique used by job applicants during an interview process.

“Why do you believe in God?”“What is your mission in life?”, and ”What are your top three values?” are all great examples.

Sometimes, this answer is also accompanied with a shrug and downward inflection, indicating the end of the conversation. In other words, “I have not thought about it, nor do I plan to”. Laziness or resistance?

A – AVOID
aka “I do not want to tell you”.

You know the answer perfectly well, however, you do not want to tell me. I may not like the answer. I may not need to know the answer. And, instead of politely spelling out the truth, you give me this hackneyed gem.

“Mommy, where do babies come from?”
“Umm… That’s a great question, honey.”

See what I mean?

D – DISTRACT
aka “Let’s talk about something else”.

This is a beloved trick of any politician. Consider the responses to “Mr. President, how do you respond to the criticism about X?”-type questions.

Appeals to nationalistic pride work especially well here. Just wave the flag, and mention something about homeland security. It does not matter if the original question had to do with proposed cuts to the education system.

If you are successful, the conversation flounders around great questions, what makes questions great, how we should all be asking great questions, and, finally (bonus points!), the value of inquiry in developing analytical skills. By that time, everyone forgot what the original question was. Mission accomplished.

I’m onto you.

When you respond to a question with “That’s a great question!”, that’s just SAD –> Stall + Avoid + Distract.

What are you actually saying?

Asking great questions,
Solo

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Shayne at 10:39 pm Oct 20
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