That’s A Good Question

There are a bunch of verbal tics that people use that drive me crazy.  “Honestly” and “to tell you the truth” are the two that I dislike the most. 

Another one that I hate is “that’s a good question” as the immediate response to a question.  I know this is just buying time to start to formulate an answer, but it always annoys me.

Today, one of my partners (who heard me coach a CEO on this the other day in preparation for a presentation) told me that I had just said “that’s a good question” three times in a meeting we were in.  I looked at him with my normal incredulous “huh?” look and said “really?”  He didn’t respond with “that’s a good question” but responded, “I don’t mean to be an asshole about it, but really.” 

I guess I’ve been promulgating one of the verbal tics that annoys me.  If you notice me doing this with you, please admonish me appropriately.

  • #ifdef pedantic

    Is the misspelling of “verbal tics” an example of a “writing tic”?



  • Eric – fixed. Oops. I feel recursive today.

  • Evan

    When people start sentences with “to tell you the truth”, I have to wonder what they have been telling me otherwise.

  • Brad,
    I know exactly what you mean. If someone starts a statement off by saying “Honestly”, then I know that the are most likely full of S. If they do that, are we to assume that everything they say that does not start with that a lie?


  • MIke

    Quite dishonestly, the one I can’t stand is: “I’m hanging in there” It sounds like the heart-lung machine is about to stop, the funeral is Monday, life is horrible and one’s leper arm just fell off into the soup.

  • I don’t recall who was making the presentation, but I remember sitting in a presentation, and, during the Q&A after the presentation was done, the presenter began his response with “That’s a GREAT question.”, and proceeded to explain –

    A “Good” question is one I have an answer for
    A “Great” question is one I have a slide for – and can pull the slide up immediately.

  • two of my least favorite “verbal tics” are:

    1) Preceding a question with “My question is this…” As if the target of the question can not distinguish an interrogative…

    2) “The bottom line is…” Which is a common method for trying to finally get out the point that you have otherwise been failing to make.

    So, my question is this: Do you think we are all guilty of doing the very same things that we find annoying in other people? The bottom line is that most of us probably are.


  • Robert Hacker

    In the never ending search for disruptive technolgies why not incorporate voice recognition in those collars that shock dogs when they try to leave the property. After 2-3 days wearing the collar I am sure you would be cured.

  • Hum…I have considered saying, “that’s a really stupid question and let me tell you why” but always think better of it. 😉

  • Zaid Farooqui

    If these are just your PERSONAL tics, I can understand.

    But I wouldn’t say that makes use of such phrases inherently bad.

    Let’s take Chris’s dislike of “The bottom line is…”. From my experience, using that phrase helps sum up a larger debate or discussion in few words.

  • Adam T

    The one I hate is “I don’t mean to be a _____ but…” I was once told by a mentor they actually do mean to be whatever they say they are not. If they didn’t they would phrase their feedback differently.

  • Actually, I have a verbal tic as well. I actually say the word “actually” way more than I realize. A girlfriend of mine actually counted once and figured out I actually said actually once every 3 sentences.

    I don’t think I actually say it that often, but if anyone has any advice, I would actually thank them for helping me break this habit.


  • “Actually” is a tic that stems from our desire to think we’re saying something original or unexpected.

    “That’s a good question” can be useful in sales presentations when you want to flatter the prospect (questioner). But you can only use it once in a meeting.

  • I like a further refinement to Mike’s comment above, about a “Good Question”:

    Good Question = I know the answer off hand
    Very Good Question = I even have a slide for it
    Great Question = it’s the NEXT slide up

    When I get many great questions it tells me that my presentation is built in a logical/ didactic flow, and my audience is actually with me.

  • I hate “quite frankly…”. Athletes seem to use it a lot. Michael Jordan would say it 10 times in every postgame press conference.

    “That’s a good question” is cliche, but in a sales context if you follow it up with “why did you ask it?” you can learn a lot about what the prospect is thinking.

  • When “That’s a great question!” is sincere, I think it is quite polite.

    When it is insincere, it is grating.

  • I can’t stand “to be honest with you” or any of the phrases along those lines. I wrote a post about it in customer service.

  • All these annoy me, too, and one other: “Frankly” or “If I can be frank.”

    In my former life as a reporter at a small town paper, the police used “Code Frank” over the police radio to refer to a dead body. So whenever I hear someone ask if they can be “frank” I always picture them dead.

    That cured me of ever accidentally saying that!

  • When I preface statements with “honestly”, usually I’m about to say something to which the recipient would prefer a different answer than the truth.

  • Martha

    The best use of the word “frankly” was done by dear ol’ Rhett!!!

  • There are definitely some “verbal tics” that get on my nerves, but I don’t think that simply using one of these automatically makes it annoying. It all depends on the context. For example, I found myself saying “that’s a good question” a couple of days ago, in what I believe was a reasonable context.

    The situation was that I was answering a series of questions posed to me by a colleague about a project we were working on. I had been working on it longer, and was more familiar with the subject matter, and he was rather new to the project. In fact, I actually thought that I knew about everything there was to know about the subject matter and that the conversation was going to be annoying because I would be spending my time covering new ground.

    However, after asking a couple of good questions to solidify his understanding of the subject, my colleague asked me a question that I didn’t have an answer for, because I had not previously considered the possibilities implied by his question. I may have even said “that’s a good question” specifically because I didn’t have an answer, and was buying time to think, as you suggested above.

    But I don’t think this is so bad in this case. I’m basically saying something akin to “Wow, I thought that due to your limited exposure to the subject matter your questions were going to be routine and boring but instead you’ve surprised me by coming up with a question that a) I have not previously considered and b) is worth thinking about. Good job!” but without spelling all of that out in such detail. I’m sure the person I was speaking too got the jist of it from the context and my tone and so on.

    As an aside, I noticed that I used another phrase that people may find redundant or annoying above when I started a sentence with “In fact, …”. Following the logic in the post and some of the comments, some people might suggest that my use of that qualifier suggests that unless my sentences are prefaced with that qualifier (or a similar one) that perhaps I am lying or wrong.

    This is not the case, but rather I was just using it to try to keep my writing flowing nicely and indicate that the statement following “in fact” was a further refinement of the preceeding statement.

    There are tons of “tics” that people use every day that could certainly be eliminated from their vocabulary or perhaps even the collective vocabulary, but written and verbal communication would get really boring really fast if you rip out all the unnecessary verbiage and force people to always get right to the point.

    I realize that no one is advocating eliminating every colloquialism from ever situation, but where do you draw the line? I think that’s a good question.

  • This is an area I explored in my own blog, but looking at how entrepreneurs use the phrase “good question” in

  • Thanh Nguyen

    Personally I think there are more to understand of an answer than just the content or the use of “tics”. Normally we need to put ourselves into the context to get the big picture, then we can get directly to the point.

  • deepb

    It is annoying to hear those phrases from someone routinely or without good reason, but I believe they have legitimate uses as well.

    For example, I use ‘honestly..’ when I’m about to say something that might not be 100% politically correct, or providing a solicited personal opinion that is unfavorable to the person I’m talking to (e.g., Him: “Do you like my new haircut?” Me: “Honestly.. no.”).

    I used to work with a guy who overused the word ‘basically’. Basically, he used it as the first word of every sentence, and basically, sometimes even more frequently. So basically, that got pretty annoying. Basically, of course.

  • nate

    According to, there are no stupid questions, only inquisitive idiots.