Charlie Rose on the Phrase “That’s a Great Question!”

Stephen Dubner interviewed Charlie Rose on Freakonomics. The topic was “That’s a Great Question!” Here’s a snippet of the transcript (emphasis added). Love hearing how the best interviewers think about developing questions…

DUBNER: How do you take it when someone says – let’s say you’re sitting down with, you know, maybe it was Steve Jobs, maybe it was President Clinton, and you ask a question, and they look at you across the table, and say, “Charlie, you know, that’s a great question.” Does it feel like they’re trying to flatter you? How do you take that?

ROSE: I think they’re trying to flatter me most of the time. Or they believed it, I mean whether it is egotistical and I think it was a good question and I agree with them, because I thought about it and structured it and gave some consideration to it. Or, B: it’s spontaneous and flattering, and less so, it’s simply buying time as they crystallize their thought.

DUBNER: It strikes me that you’re someone who works hard to ask the kind of questions that people think are really good questions, that are really good questions.

ROSE: I do, I mean, it would be clearly naïve of me to say that I don’t think about the craft of the question. I think about that a lot. How to ask the question, what I expect to get from the question. And so how the question is perceived makes a difference to me. I structure the question hoping to get the best possible response. I used to make longer questions. With some assumption that I had to explain the question. I spend more time now simplifying the question.

DUBNER: Take us a little further into that. When you say that you structure the question hoping to get the best possible response, I guess what I want to know from you is, how do you know what the best possible response is? In other words, are you trying to, like a prosecutor, get the answer to a question that you sort of know already?

ROSE: Well, let me do something first. I would be tempted to say, “that’s a very good question that you just asked me.” But because of this conversation I’m not gonna say that.

DUBNER: Okay. Cheers.

ROSE: But it…I would say that because that is the right question. Um, it’s not, for me, that I want them to say something that I think they’ve said before and I want them to repeat it. So, I’m not asking questions to have someone tell me what I want them to say or to tell me something that they’ve already said before. What I want them to do is surprise me with an answer. To go deeper, wider, more interesting than they have before. And there is a kind of moment in which you try to say something that is…that just captures the moment and makes the person be caught up in the question rather than simply, you know, repeating something that they’ve said a thousand times before.

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