Why You Shouldn’t Compliment Difficult Questions Before Answering

This article is about the desire to compliment difficult questions when they catch us off guard. It is not about expressing genuine awe of a masterfully composed inquiry.


If you’ve ever tuned into an interview with a politician on the campaign trail, you’ve likely heard the phrase: “That’s a good question.” Prior to answering – perhaps difficult – questions, some people make it a habit to compliment the question that has them in a bind. The more someone compliments questions others ask them, the less meaningful their compliment becomes. After a while, the compliment begins to adopt an entirely different meaning than what it appears to express at face value. In an attempt to dull the edges of difficult questions posed, and the even harder questions coming up, people often resort to complimenting them.

The effect that your compliment of a question has on the person who posed it, only plays itself out how it’s intended once. As the interviewer begins to spot the pattern, they begin to see compliments coming from the person they’ve interviewing as cheap forms of influence. They interpret compliments of the questions that they ask to be an assertive move, rather than a kind one. In their recognition of that fact, they may smell blood and become more pressing with their questions.

This article aims to motivate you to limit how frequently you compliment a difficult question prior to answering it.


The Sensitivities of a Mundane Act

A question which throws us off guard, makes us feel vulnerable within that moment. Nobody enjoys not being able to provide an answer to a difficult question. The circumstance that an individual is placed under while being asked difficult questions becomes uncontrollable in their perception. The question posed has their image in the palm of its hand. The way someone deals with a difficult question can make or break campaigns, it can attract or deflect others’ respect, and can mark them as unknowledgeable in a specific field.

Someone’s habit of resorting to compliment the difficult questions that they’re faced with, is often seen as an attempt to regain the perceived control they had of that social situation. By complimenting a question, you’d make it seem that your compliment is worth something to others. As a common principal, the interviewer interviews a person of interest, not the other way around.  In your act of labeling their question to be good, you’d inherently remind the individual asking you the difficult question of their position in the dealing. “You are a good interviewer,” you’d hint at. By doing so, you’d remind everyone else of who the main attraction is in this regard. By complimenting someone’s question strategically, you take advantage of your position of being a person of interest, and attempt to socially weaponize complimentary words.

Though the person asking you questions may be more important than yourself, you’d serve to remind them of their interviewer role in that scenario. “That’s a really good question,” doesn’t need to be said. They wouldn’t have asked it if they didn’t think it was. People know good questions when they hear them, not when you label those questions to be good. So what’s the point of that seemingly wholesome label then? To remind yourself how good of a question it was? Is it to buy yourself more time? Is it to remind others of your position of power in that situation? Are there other sly motives at play?

The battle of control in this specific instance thereby, is one in which you’d project the image you wish to portray. In an effort to mitigate the effects of a mediocre answer you’re about to give, you’d resort to complimenting the difficult question posed.

People asking you questions in life will be sensitive to you playing this game. Even if you’re simply attempting to buy yourself some time, complimenting a question someone asks you prior to answering it can be a bad idea. Perhaps unintentionally, you’d hint on the fact that you’re more important than the person asking you that question. As the self appointed judge of questions, you’d label yourself as the controller of the situation you might not have any control over.

Always remember, a good question is one which either elicits a good answer, or encourages its recipient to acknowledge their ignorance on the matter. The way to genuinely compliment a question someone asks you, is to either give a better answer, or to admit your lack of knowledge in that domain. Complimenting the question posed would be an attempt to gamify a potential serious social dealing. It would waste time, and simply tease the people waiting patiently for an answer you’re about to give. It’ll be perceived as an attempt to gain cheap influence over the situation at hand by you, and would be viewed as a weakness by those who watch and listen.

Read our analyses of current events by becoming a subscriber.

Disclaimer of Opinion: This article is presented only as opinion. It does not make any scientific, factual, or legal claims. Please critically analyze all claims made and independently decide on its validity.