Today I was listening to an interview with an interesting, educated entrepreneur, and throughout the interview, I heard many of her answers prefaced with "That's a great question" or "That's a really good question."
These are phrases that often annoy me because I think they're overused, and more so because they're typically not a genuine appraisal of the quality of the question. In the case of the interview I heard, the questions were certainly reasonable, many rather obvious, but basically appropriate for the interview subject; nothing I would categorize as a "great" or "really good" question.
I certainly think that there are in fact many great questions to be asked. The historical record is full of them. To provide a few well known examples, from a range of contexts:
I wish that there were in fact as many really good questions being asked as people are saying there are, and more clarity and additional information was the result.
In reality, it seems that the phrase is typically used (consciously or unconsciously) to co-opt a sometimes hostile audience or to create more of a connection, a "we're-all-in-this-together spirit" with the questioner. To me, it often comes off sounding either like sycophantic pandering or thinly-veiled condescension.
When I was working in professional settings, I sat through a lot of meetings where people were pitching a product or business and looking to win support from their audience. Frequently they would be faced with a skeptical or hostile audience posing questions, trying to pick holes in the presentation. Often the presenter would preface the response to the hostile question with "That's a great question." I was amazed to see that this actually seemed to work with some people to mollify their objections and make them more partial to the presenter.
So as much as I wonder about why people use this often disingenuous phrase, I am also left wondering why even educated, successful people are so susceptible to this not-so-subtle ass-kissing. It's a really good question.