Good Question

May. 13, 2019

Sarah Raful Whinston

Good Question

About the importance of meaning what you say

When I was a teenager, people started saying the word “like.” I’m not sure if it had anything to do with Clueless or Beverly Hills 90210, but the word “like” suddenly took on a different meaning. Sometimes I remember saying, “Do you like like Full House?” or “Do you like like her?” I could go on, but the point is that It became part of my every day vocabulary as it did for many of my friends.

One day, my dad said, “Sarah, can you speak without using the word ‘like’?” I remember rolling my eyes and being annoyed, but then as I tried to have a full conversation without that word, I realized how difficult it was. Every time I used ‘like’ in a sentence, my dad would stop me and start the sentence over again. Even when my friends came over, he would make them start their sentences over again as well. Now, many years later, I’m not sure if the word has completely escaped my daily speech, but I am sure that it’s not as common as it was.

What other words exist in our everyday culture that we use without knowing why? What do you say on a daily basis out of habit instead of with intention? Now I wonder whether we can we change our language to be more representative of how we want to be seen by others.

Recently I read an article on the words “how are you”. The second line of the article says, “These are the three most useless words in the world of communication. The person asking doesn’t really want to know, and the person responding doesn’t tell the truth. What follows is a lost opportunity and meaningless exchange with zero connection.”[1]

In my role as a nonprofit executive search consultant, I interview people all day long and I also have the opportunity to sit in on interviews with search committees. Recently, I started hearing the words “Good question” come up more and more. I started to take note – I heard myself use the words a couple times on a pitch, interviewees were using it with search committees, and speakers were saying it on panels. A friend of mine even got annoyed with a woman who, when interviewing her, kept saying, ‘good question, good question, good question.’” Still unknown if the woman will get hired.

The “Good Question” controversy  has gotten so popular that Freakonomics did an entire podcast on the meaning of the phrase and why it’s become so rampant among interviewers.

In the podcast, Bill McGowan talks about how ‘“That’s a great question” may have originated in media training as a “bridge” — a way for an interviewee to take a question in a different direction than the interviewer intended. McGowan too has noticed that the phrase has spread like mold, and is ready for it to die out:

“I believe that saying ‘that’s a really good question’ is about as outdated a tic or a strategy as telling people to envision the audience in their underwear.”’

So, I challenge you to try not saying the phrase. Next time you start to say, “Good question,” really think about what you are trying to get across in that moment. If you are impressed with the questions, you could wait until the end of the interview and say, “I want to thank you for such fascinating and thought-provoking questions.” Doesn’t that sound so much better than “Good Question?”

The next time you need a couple minutes to answer a question, you can say, “I’d like to think about that for one minute.” Search committees and interviewers will be impressed. Just don’t take too long.

The phrases, Good Question, Like, How are you, are all overused and have, to an extent, become meaningless. Think about your words. Choose carefully. Make your presence last by using words that have more meaning and show your intention. In the end what you really want is to be memorable, so don’t lose the opportunity to form a connection.


About  Sarah Raful Whinston

Connect with me on LinkedIn or email me at swhinston@drgsearch.com

Read my previous article, “When a Question Becomes a Statement”


[1] (https://www.cnbc.com/2019/03/07/stop-asking-how-are-you-harvard-researchers-say-this-is-how-successful-people-make-small-talk.html?__source=facebook%7CInc&cid=sf01002)