Answering questions you’re not prepared for can be an unpleasant experience. No matter if you’re in this situation in your personal life or with potential applicants, a part of us still wants to revert back to grade school body language—head down, avoiding eye contact, and praying the teacher doesn’t pick on you to answer a pop question. The problem is if an applicant asks a question, they’re expecting you to respond confidently so they aren’t left with doubts. With this guide you’ll learn some tips and tricks on how to think under pressure, answering unexpected questions faster and more confidently than ever.

How to Seem Intelligent Even if You Feel Unsure

Before you confidently begin answering questions off the fly, it’s important to know a little history on how intelligence has been perceived. Sir Francis Galton, known as “the father of psychometrics,” studied thousands of individuals in the 1880’s and discovered a connection between reaction times and intelligence. While, according to the Smithsonian, the idea that “speed equals smarts” might not necessarily be true, in our society the concept has stuck. Just take the word “slow” for example. Even though the word is typically used to describe things physically, it can also unsavorily describe things mentally.

tips for property managersYou can even see this link between “speed equals smarts” in popular culture. In both modern movie and TV adaptations Sherlock Holmes uses inductive and deductive reasoning to discover the truth about a murder or, in this case, to his advantage. While Sherlock as a character is definitely intelligent, modern movies and TV adaptations emphasize how quickly it is for Sherlock to know something through either slow motion effects or effortlessly by acting like “he just knows”. That being said, Sherlock Holmes is far from perfect; he’s not personable enough. While you should aim to answer all questions your applicants pose to you within a reasonable amount of time, as a property manager you also need to know how to answer.

Use Questions as a Means to Connect

I’m sure there’s plenty of times where you’ve wished you answered a question in a different way. You’ve probably overanalyzed and reworked your answer in your head long after the question was asked. While rethinking your responses can potentially help you grow as a property manager, it can also dangerously bring down your confidence. So if you find yourself in a situation where you feel like you could’ve answered better, stay focused on the present questions. The next question your applicant or resident asks is an opportunity to not only connect, but to strengthen your rapport as a whole.

In his TedTalk, Brian Miller stresses that in order to magically connect with anyone you need to understand that, as a property manager, you have a completely different perspective than a current or potential resident. While you might be caught off guard by questions about how maintenance is performed and how to submit a request, your applicant might simply be asking because of a previous bad experience. The key to making a connection with applicants and residents, Miller suggests, is listening. By making your applicant feel like they’re understood (and using your own questions to try to understand them as well), you can create a connection through shared experiences.

So How Can You Think Faster and Smarter?

Remembering to answer promptly while trying not to get caught up in your own answers, and still make a connection by listening can be overwhelming. Thankfully, Stanford Graduate School of Business’s Matt Abrahams has a few communication techniques that can help you get on the right path by focusing on the little things that can make or break communication. Since a few of these are communication exercises, try to practice with someone (ideally with your team).

How to Manage your Anxiety and Make your Applicants Comfortable

  1. Acknowledge that you are anxious. While this won’t stop you from being nervous, by normalizing it, your nerves won’t get out of hand.
  1. Think of every unexpected speaking situation as a conversation versus a performance. Performances imply that there is a right and wrong way to be speaking. There isn’t a right and wrong way to speak when you have a conversation. It stresses engagement. This is when you can ask your applicant questions.
  1. Be Present. Don’t think about filling the vacancy or what the applicant might think of you. Thinking about the future consequences in a conversation with an applicant will only add to your anxiety.

The Basics for Becoming More Comfortable with Spontaneously Speaking

  1. Don’t get in your own way.

Don’t put pressure on being “right”. A good exercise to try to get more comfortable with speaking spontaneously is called “Shout the Wrong Name”. In this exercise (generally practiced in private) you point at anything around you and shout whatever comes into your head except what that object actually is. Be conscious of patterns. If you’re consciously coming up with similar names or names you came up before, try this again. This will help you train your mind to be more comfortable with “doing” rather than stressing about the consequences of right and wrong or going off a script.

  1. Think of questions from applicants and spontaneous speaking situations as an opportunity.

An exercise to help you with this is called “Give a Gift” and it requires a partner. You and your partner will exchange imaginary gifts. The first recipient will open the imaginary gift and say what was given to them (the first thing that comes to mind in the moment). The second person will then respond with “Thank you. I knew you wanted it because…” and explain why or how they knew (again, it needs to be a spontaneous reason). Then do the same exercise but with the second person as the recipient this time. As elaborate as this exercise is, it allows you and your partner to rethink the idea of random questions. Rather than immediately becoming defensive, it becomes an opportunity to answer a question and create a connection.

  1. Slow down and listen.

A lot of the times, we are thinking of a response during the conversation, rather than simply listening and then answering the question. To try to slow down; with a partner spell out loud what your plans are for the weekend. This will make you more conscious of what the other person is saying, versus thinking of what to say next.

When it comes to spontaneous speaking situations, whether it’s answering unexpected questions from your applicants or suddenly introducing a co-worker at a meeting, you are your worst enemy. Even if you think you’re the Sherlock Holmes of property management, if you can’t connect and communicate effectively, then you’re getting in your own way. Invest in yourself and in your community by practicing these exercises. You’ll be shocked by how much easier it is to handle your applicant’s unexpected questions.

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About the Author

Author Becky BowerBecky Bower is the Communications Executive here at the Resident Screening Blog. She holds a degree in English, with a focus in creative writing, from CSU Channel Islands. Her biggest weakness is cake and favorite superhero is Batman.

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