There are a few phrases that become repeated so often that they become meaningless to the point of utter annoyance. The current “filler of space” response when asked a question seems to be, “That’s a great question!” I thought this was a sales technique spreading like a virus through corporate America, but it’s jumped ship and is infiltrating unlikely arenas. For instance, I’ve heard it used on the campuses of schools, colleges and universities, and their students are learning to say it too. And soon, it seems that instead of the saying “there’s no such thing as a stupid question,” the saying will be “there’s no such thing as a question that’s not GREAT!” This response has become a thing to say no matter what question is posed.
The first time I heard this, I thought, “Well, thank you!” I gave myself a pat on the back. Hey, my question was great. This person gets that I’m smart, and I appreciate him for recognizing that. Then, I asked another question. The response was the same. This time with a bit of chuckle, “That’s, yeah, that’s a GREAT question. I’m going to do some digging around and get back with you.” I’m thinking, “Yep, I’m your smartest potential client EVER. My questions are GREAT! Ask me my SAT score … come on, I’ll tell you and you will be impressed!” When I asked another question, what do you think was the reply? The actual answer? Oh, no. Simply, “Again, a great question … ” At this point, I was not thinking my question was so great. I felt deflated for falling for these ego-boost mind games. Just for grins, I asked another question and again, it was a humdinger. It was another GREAT question! “You are a mindless idiot,” is all I was thinking at this point.
As I’m currently looking at both middle schools and colleges for two of my kids, I’ve been touring a lot of campuses. I’ve noticed that every time I have a question (and this usually happens at the college level), it’s always a “great question.” At work, we just went through two training sessions with two different companies, and apparently every question anyone asks is (wait for it …) a GREAT question. And it’s definitely rule #1 in every customer service employee handbook right now.
From what I can tell, now that I’m seasoned in the art of posing “great questions,” this is what “that’s a great question” means: Let me say this so that I have an extra three seconds to see if I can think of an answer. If not, you’ll likely be okay that I don’t have the answer you want because I’ve told you your question is great and made you feel smarter.
At this point, I think the response “that’s a great question” is robotic. People are saying it out of habit. I was at a cocktail party the other night and I heard it several times: “That’s a great question!” I was on the phone with customer service just yesterday, and when I asked about my package location, I was told “That’s a great question!” Um, no it’s not. This is where you call to track packages. It should be an EXPECTED question. And then I wanted to start cussing and throwing things. STOP IT! Come on, people! There are other responses to questions. Let’s respect our language and God-given minds to have answers to what is actually being asked!
Here. I’ll offer several options to consider:
“Yes, we can do that.”
“No, we can’t do that.”
“I’m not sure if we can do that, but I’ll find out.”
“I’ve not been asked that question before. Let me find out and get back with you.”
Or, simply SAY THE ANSWER! You can pause a second to think. Even two. That’s okay.
Let’s reserve this now ubiquitous response for when you really do think the question posed is better than most.
We all have pet peeves, but after talking about this specific one in our office, and everyone becoming agitated at hearing this phrase over and over, we thought we’d make the plea. We are willing to bet that many of you reading this hate hearing this response, too. And, if you don’t, you’re likely saying it 200 times a day, and that means we are looking at you. We are asking YOU to kindly stop responding with “that’s a great question,” and instead just answer our questions straight up. Is that to much to ask? Now, that IS a great question!