When someone says, “That’s a great question!” several things happen.

  1. The person who asked the question feels good.
  2. The person responding gets a moment to think about their answer.
  3. Others in the room who had the same question feel either relieved they’re not the only one with this question or disappointed they didn’t ask first. They might be motivated to think of other ‘great’ questions.
  4. The person who asked a different question but didn’t receive the “great” feedback feels their question wasn’t good enough.

Whenever I say “Great question!” my intention is never to leave anyone out. Using enthusiastic language keeps up the energy and can make people feel comfortable. But singling out individuals often makes others (particularly folks who already feel marginalized) feel disregarded.

I’d like to do better. What if we responded with what we actually mean? We could instead say, “I haven’t thought about that question yet,” or “That’s a tricky one for me to answer.” These responses honor the significance of an unusual perspective, but are more inclusive to those folks who have a hard time speaking up.

It’s a simple change but I think could have a beautiful cyclical consequence: in ensuring all kinds of voices are heard we invite a greater variety of voices to our work. And we need that.