You often hear “That’s a good question!” or its close cousin, “I’m glad you asked that!” on podcasts, radio broadcasts, during industry conferences, internal meetings, media interviews, and public company quarterly earnings calls. These two boiler plate phrases are trotted out almost as frequently as “What keeps you up at night?” The two, along with three others below, have become a tradition in Q&A sessions—as much of a ritual as saying “Cheers!” when giving a toast.
Why? Presentation lore has it that these phrases show courtesy or flatter audiences. Noble intentions indeed. Unfortunately, these phrases can backfire, especially when they are deployed in response to a hostile question because they come across as a conspicuous stall for time, or worse, contentious sarcasm.
For example, picture an IT product manager who has just finished a presentation about a product upgrade and then opens the floor to questions from an audience of existing customers.
The first question comes from a clearly irate CIO of a large financial institution:
We’ve spent millions of dollars on the first version of your solution, and it gave us nothing but problems—crashes, downtime, glitches, and endless repairs—and now you want us to upgrade to a new version? We’re still having problems with the earlier version! What are you going to do about that?
Imagine if, in response to the above example of the irate CIO’s hostile question about a product upgrade, the IT manager were to reply:
That’s a good question.
I’m glad you asked that.
Clearly, it was not a good question, nor is the beleaguered IT manager glad that the CIO, a valued customer, asked it.
On the other hand, if someone in the audience were to ask you a question that is good for you, such as:
All these new features in your product should allow us to save time and money, right?
You could then gleefully use both of those phrases:
That’s a good question and I’m glad you asked that!
From there you could go on to extol the virtues of your new product. But then if the next person were to ask you:
Yes, but why do you charge so much for your product?
You would hardly say:
That’s a bad question! I’m not glad you asked that!
That would be judging or favoring one audience member over the other.
The adjectives “good” or “bad” carry a negative balance forward into the answer.
The first of the three other dysfunctional boiler plate phrases is:
What you’re really asking…
The implication here is that the questioner didn’t formulate the question correctly and that the presenter will benevolently reformulate it for them in much more articulate way.
The second is:
If I understand your question…
The implication here is the fatal message “I wasn’t listening.”
If you didn’t follow the questioner, instead say “I’m sorry, I didn’t follow. Would you mind restating your question?”
And the final phrase to avoid is:
The issue/concern is…
If you use the word “concern” or “issue” when you respond, you are confirming that there is a problem. Worse still, you would begin your answer by carrying forward a negative balance.
Delete all these five troublesome phrases from your vocabulary. No prefaces needed; simply answer the question.