Why Do People in Interviews Say “That’s a Good Question”?

Arika Okrent
iStock / iStock

Have you been listening to radio interviews lately, watching experts being questioned on TV, or going to talks at conferences?

That’s a good question.

Wait. What? No it’s not. It’s not even really a question, just a rhetorical opening to bring up the topic of why it seems that almost every kind of question, good or bad, is met with a “that’s a good question” response these days.

I recently talked to Stephen J. Dubner at the Freakonomics Radio Podcast about the phrase, what it accomplishes, and why people use it so much. We talked about whether Americans or Brits use it more, what makes it an effective “bridge” technique for changing the subject, and how it helps create a misleading map of the conversation. You’ll also hear from media and P.R. trainer Bill McGowan on the bridging technique, Steven Levitt on what makes saying the phrase a nice thing to do for someone, and Charlie Rose, master of the truly good question, on what it feels like when someone says “that’s a good question” to him.

Listen here.

You can find more Freakonomics Radio Podcasts here.