Saying, "That's a really good question" is not a good statement to make. Only sycophants say things like this.

I am going to attempt to be funny. I say this in advance because I don't mean to sound sarcastic or mean.

I am sitting in this leadership class--it's about how we can be more articulate. An interesting topic. However, I am always a little concerned when the facilitator doesn't have the skills himself or herself when conducting a class on an important topic.  And I more concerned when the person (the facilitator or instructor) has not been in similar situations nor used the material he or she is teaching.

Anyway, here we are in this class. The class is set up in a U-shape. You know the kind, where the facilitator is walking around in the center, and the rest of goofs are sitting at tables set up in a squared off U. To be fair, and I am sure this is the situation in most organizations today, all of us have been in classes or facilitated discussions that go about nowhere. And these classes are not helped by the fact that we, as participants, are pretty skilled, intelligent, and strong willed people.

The class I am referring to heads in the direction about conference calls and presenting to other high-level execs our business plans and how to gain their agreement, as well as how to look and appear that we are on-the-ball. We are discussing how to gain agreement on the conference call, especially where there may be 10 to 20 people on the call. (Now don't get me started by asking 'What kind of organization allows 10 to 20 people on a con call? That's an issue for another time).

We as a class are discussing presenting a piece of work and walking these other high-level, strong-willed people through a Powerpoint deck. If you are in business, you know what happens. People start asking you questions. And these questions can become quite a bit uncontrolled--too many and you are like a tail on a dog--going back and forth, from one question to another. Sooner or later you are whipsawed and you can never win when you are peppered with a dozen questions, one right after another.

A person in the class asks the facilitator the question, "You know, the people we are presenting to, start jumping ahead on the call, before we finish our presentation and they begin to ask questions. It's hard to think and gain control and  give them a good answer." In other words, this person is saying, she responds to these questions quickly, wanting to appear sharp and in command, but there are sometimes she needs a second to think. However, if she waits too long to think, the feedback is we look unsure. It's a fair question. It's also an honest and candid question. In fact, this is probably the root reason behind the class.

The facilitator says, "Try this. The next time someone asks you a question, say, 'That's a really good question . . .' and this will allow you time to pause, regroup and think about the answer."

Of course, I am a smart-ass, and I am sitting in this class. I know about these questions. You have to gain control and remain in control without appearing to be controlling and not "open to new ideas." Because someone asks a question, not answering it or deflecting it to later can appear to make you appear controlling or not appreciative of the person asking the question.

So I say something under my breath about the try this "That's a really good question" idea. What I say is, "Until you say 'That's really a good question,' for the sixteenth time--you run the risk of looking to try to appease everyone saying that they all have really good questions. So somewhere in your mind you realize you've said 'That's a really good question' 16-times and your brain says switch it up so you don't sound redundant.

To switch it up you say the next best thing, you say, "That's a really great question."

Now you've moved from good to great--from that's a good question to that's a really great question. And all those other people to whom you told that was a good question is now pissed off because you've told this latest person that he has a really great question. Now, you've disgraced all the other questions with one backhanded insult--unintentionally."

Now, I am realizing, that this is not exactly as under my breath as I thought it was. Two people to my right are laughing pretty hard. This other person to my left has tears in her eyes she's laughing so hard. What I said must have resonated with these people.

The facilitator is looking at me as she must have heard this too. Recognizing I am guilty I say, "Sorry about that."

Of course, as sorry as I was about disrupting the class, I am not sorry for having this thought that escaped my lips.

The facilitator's advice is bad advice. Never say. "That's a good question." It sounds wimpy, weak, and makes you look like a sycophant. Other than that, it's perfect.

Prepare in advance. Think through the questions that can be asked or should be asked and prepare a short sentence hitting the question straight on. Say, "Yes. I considered that. Let me tell you what I considered as the way to address that." Or say, "I too am concerned about that issue you are bringing up. I don't have a great answer for it--although I have placed a lot of thought around it. Here's my thinking." And then tell the person your strategy.

You can also take another approach if you don't have a good answer by saying you don't have a good answer to something. I am not sure you will agree with me on this--but saying you have thought about the issue, but don't have a good solution is okay if you do not have a solution. Sometimes 'I don't know' is the right answer, because it is the only answer. If someone says,"What will happen if the Mongolian Wall on the eastern front grows too much moss over the next three years?" the only answer is: 'I don't know.' And saying, "But I will find out" is as stupid as saying, "That's a really good question." Just say, "I don't know." Without saying, "Who gives a crap?"

There are never great solutions to every potential issue. Now, don't make that last statement. People who are in business know there are never always solutions to every potential problem. It's when someone tries to appear that they have all the answers, is when they look weak. It's because they appear that they are trying way too hard not to look bad rather than come up with the best strategies to the most likely scenarios.

Saying, "I don't have the exact answer to this--but I am considering three options. Here they are . . . " tells people you are thinking. They like the fact that you are thinking things through. The people higher up or the people on the client's executive team want to know that they are dealing with a strategist--someone who plays down-the-board and tries to see around corners. They all know no one actually can see around the corner. What they want is someone who is ready for the crap that comes out of the blue or what the competition may do and that you have at least the semblance of a game plan in case these events occur.

Saying, "That's a good question" is a suck up, sycophant statement that leads to nowheresville. Be prepared. Place yourself in the shoes of the executives. Think about what they need to know. Give them the feeling, the sense, that you have thought things through from their perspective. Saying things like, "That's a really good question" makes you questionable, and in fact encourages more questions. Saying "I thought this issue through and these other two issues as well" makes the people on the call say to themselves, "Jeez, this guy (or lady) has his act together. I better rethink about asking my question."

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