When something’s funny, we laugh. When we’re asked a question, we answer. So when individuals don’t answer, don’t laugh, and instead respond with commentary, it stands out. Does this suggest a question is less good? Does this indicate a setup was less funny?
When we ask a question, and instead of an answer we hear, “That’s a good question,” or perhaps its stronger form, “That’s a very good question,” what are we to think? Is this a compliment? In lieu of appropriate etiquette for compliments, is this a question-receiver’s method of question-receiver applause? Or is it just filler — a more eloquent stammer?
Likewise, consider the reaction: “That’s funny.” In the taxonomy of laughs, is the “that’s funny” reaction more parallel to a smile or an audible laugh? Or is its equivalent unparalleled by human sound, thus the word-translation? And if the emphasis is placed on the “that’s” rather than the “funny,” is the meaning rendered any differently? Is the inverse true?
The non-reaction reaction
Whether you raise an eyebrow to encourage a different reaction, or let said sentences lie, the unstated fear, of course, is that the question was not good or not funny. The commentary avoids the occasion to be downright rude. As questioners, we accept the word-substitutes, searching them for meaning.
When responding — no matter what to — know that silence is powerful. It’s the whitespace of conversation; you can use it to shape your discourse. Rather than filling space with “that’s interesting,” “that’s funny,” or worse yet, “um,” you can be silent for a bit. (If you don’t, you’re not alone: the average English speaker makes as many as seven to twenty-two of these slips of the tongue per day.) [via]
Whether you’re being interviewed, answering Q&A on stage, or just talking with a friend, a pause is often in order. Use it to establish drama or build momentum rather than to give empty commentary.
What to do after the pause? That’s a very good question indeed.