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7 Simple Tricks To Sound Smarter When Answering Difficult Questions

7 Simple Tricks To Sound Smarter When Answering Difficult Questions

When You Have To Think On Your Feet

You’re a smart, capable person, right? Of course you are. However, we all occasionally face situations in which we are called upon to answer seriously tricky questions. What on earth should you do when you’re asked a question that leaves you stumped? First – try not to panic. Remember that everyone has been in your situation, and you certainly won’t be the last person to feel as though their brain cells have shriveled up and died at a crucial moment. Follow the tips below to help yourself navigate difficult questions.

1. If the question is vague, ask for clarification

Sometimes the fault lies not with you, but with the person asking the question. If you have no idea where to begin answering a question, there is a chance that the person asking it did not choose their words carefully. Politely request that they re-word their statement. For instance if you are asked a question like ‘Where do you see this role heading in the next three years?’ you could quite reasonably identify that as a vague question and ask that the interviewer narrow their focus. You could respond with something like ‘That’s a great question, but I’m not sure where to start! Is there any way you could narrow that question down a little?’ They may then well respond with a new question like ‘How do you think the primary responsibilities will change in response to competitor activity?’ which may seem less daunting!

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2. Define a word or phrase on your own terms

If you are asked a question which includes a term with which you are unfamiliar, it is better to ask for clarification than to risk making an absolute fool of yourself. However, occasionally you may be presented with a question featuring an ‘elastic’ term, and you can use this to your advantage. For instance, suppose you have a job interview in which you are asked to describe the last time you ‘failed’ or ‘made a mistake’ at work, and what you did about it. This can seem like a tricky question. However, you can take it upon yourself to define ‘failed.’ Rather than talk about the time you failed to meet an important deadline, you can elect to describe the time you ‘failed to implement a good work-life balance’ and overworked yourself for the good of the company instead.

3. Remember that your attitude is sometimes just as important as the actual words you use

This is especially useful to remember when it comes to job interviews. Yes, many job interview questions are designed to test how much you actually know about your area of expertise, or how well you will fit into the role. However, reasonable interviewers will not expect you to know the answer to every question imaginable. In fact, sometimes the way you approach the question and your general attitude can count for plenty. If you don’t know the answer, a spirited attempt and frank admission that you don’t have a ready answer will go much further in impressing an interviewer than a nervous, half-hearted response. For example, suppose you are asked how you would envisage working with the Advertising Department if you were given the role of salesperson with a new company. You may not have a clue about what you would do in reality, but talking with enthusiasm about how much you would welcome the challenge to gain new experience in cross-department working will win you some points!

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4. Respond to provocative questions like a pro

Occasionally you may be unlucky enough to be asked inappropriate questions such as, ‘Are you thinking of taking time out the workplace to have children in the near-future?’ It can be hard to know how to respond to such queries. However, assuming you still really want the job, a sensible approach in such a situation is to react in a short, assertive manner (‘No, I am not’) and re-direct their attention towards another topic. For instance, to continue with the above example, your answer could go as follows – ‘No, I am not, as I am determined to use my extensive experience in this field to further my skills in areas X, Y and Z.’

5. Get into the habit of speaking in a measured tone and leaving slight pauses

Sometimes, just a few extra seconds can make all the difference between an acceptable and unacceptable answer. When someone asks you a hard question, look them in the eyes, and allow yourself a brief pause to collect your thoughts. If nothing else, this will make you appear more confident and makes the other party more likely to formulate an image of you as being in control and knowledgeable.

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6. Answer a question with a question

Turning the tables on your questioner can help open up the discussion and sometimes even prevent them pursuing an answer to the original question in the first place. For instance, suppose your child asks you whether you and your spouse are getting divorced. This could be awkward or uncertain territory. By answering a question with a question, you can divert their attention long enough to either buy yourself some time or distract them completely. Asking them questions such as, ‘Why do you ask that?’ can work well in this case.

7. Sharpen your questioner’s focus

If you feel as though your answer to someone’s question isn’t quite all they were hoping for, a good strategy can be to end your answer with a statement or fact that encourages them to ask you follow-up questions that you can answer more readily. For instance, suppose you are asked in a job interview why you are leaving your previous role with another company. Ending your response with ‘…and I have heard many good things about the upcoming sales figures of your company this quarter, and wanted to move to a more prestigious organization’ provides a positive note upon which to move to the next question.

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Whatever the question, remember to always end with a positive statement if possible, preferably one that underlines your great attitude towards the topic at hand, or your expertise. Keep your breathing steady, try and remain smiling, and remember not to beat yourself up if you don’t get it right first time, every time. Like everything else in life, answering difficult questions is a skill that must be practiced.

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Jay Hill

Jay writes about communication and happiness on Lifehack.

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Last Updated on April 8, 2020

11 Things Overachievers Do Differently

11 Things Overachievers Do Differently

We all know some overachievers: supermoms who manage to get online degrees between cleaning, cooking, and taking kids to practice; students who write 10-page papers when the directions call for 4; managers whose resumes look more like pages from the Guinness book of Records.

How do they do it all? How is it possible that one person can graduate at the top of their class, found an orphanage in India, run 30k marathons, write a best-selling book, travel all over the world and learn to speak Mandarin Chinese while having a full-time job?

What’s the secret of an overachiever? Here’re 11 things overachievers do differently that you can learn from.

1. They Know How to Manage Their Time

It’s pretty simple actually – you can never become an overachiever if you don’t know how to organize your time efficiently.

The great thing is that overachievers are ready to share their knowledge and time management talent with the rest of the world. Read The 4-Hour Workweek or The 4-Hour Body by Timothy Ferriss, and you’ll know what I’m talking about.

2. They Don’t Spend Hours Watching TV or Playing Computer Games

Mostly because they have better things to do, like exercising, reading, spending an evening with their family or volunteering to work in the local soup kitchen. Their philosophy is simple – the world is full of wonderful things to try, explore and experience. Watching TV is not one of them.

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3. They Are Obsessed With Perfection

Imagine Steve Jobs’ work approach and you’ll understand the level of perfection and painfully high standards that overachievers set for themselves and those around them. Often it pays off (especially if they focus on just one domain). But sometimes compulsive over-striving turns into a sure-fire road to disappointments and unfinished tasks.

Learn how to strike a balance: How Not to Let Perfectionism Secretly Screw You Up

4. They Know How To Inspire

Overachievers learn quickly that it is much easier to achieve goals through collaboration (and especially delegation). So they know how to inspire, encourage, persuade and motivate people around them. Even though they often drive their team crazy with their stubbornness and perfectionism, people quickly follow under the spell of their enthusiasm and greater vision.

Learn these 10 Powerful Ways to Influence People Positively.

5. They Set Clear Goals

The term “overachiever” itself implies that they know how to achieve goals. That is kind of hard to do if your goals are vague, unclear and lack specific deadline, which is why overachievers educate themselves, read goal-setting books, and think about the best way to approach a new task.

Although, it’s worth mentioning that overachievers usually use their time management and goal-setting skills towards competitive, “I want to kick butt” type of goals rather than self-improvement, mastery goals.

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Take a look at these tips to help you set clearer goals: What Are SMART Goals (And How to Use Them to Become Successful)

6. They Are Organized

It’s hard to imagine a disorganized overachiever, isn’t it? Their great organizational and planning skills usually serve three main purposes: keeping track of time, keeping track of progress and keeping track of achievements.

This hasn’t been confirmed by scientific research yet, but overachievers might actually get a “runner’s high” from crossing tasks off their to-do lists, and making new to-do lists.

Here’s How to Organize Your Life: 10 Habits of Really Organized People

7. They Try to Avoid Failure at All Costs

Some psychologists believe that overachievers place their self-worth on their competence, driven by an underlying fear of failure. Rather than setting and striving for goals based on a pure desire to achieve, their core motivation becomes avoiding failure. This may explain the fact that overachiever beat themselves up for even little setbacks and seemingly-insignificant mistakes.

But be aware that having a strong fear of failure can wrek havoc your productivity. So the best thing to do? Learn to conquer the fear: Why You Have the Fear of Failure (And How to Conquer It)

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8. They Love Awards

Who doesn’t love them, right? True enough, but unlike most people who like to feel acknowledged and appreciated for their efforts, overachievers are bent on collecting ‘awards’, be it university degrees, spelling bee prizes or unusual destinations.

While loving awares isn’t bad, it’s even better if you’re driven by internal motivation instead of external ones which could be quite uncontrolable or unstable: Why Is Internal Motivation So Powerful (And How to Find It).

9. They Don’t Understand the Concept of Work Hours

Don’t get surprised if you receive a work-related email anywhere between 8 p.m. and midnight. It’s something overachievers usually do and you weren’t the only one. At least 20 more emails have been sent during these hours to other people. The concepts of over-achieving and working overtime usually go hand in hand.

The downside of this is an imbalnced life, which may need to problems in other aspects of life including health and relationships. A better way is to Achieve a Realistic Work Life Balance.

10. They Rest

Overachievers might often be labeled as “workaholics”, because they often ignore bodily signs of hunger, fatigue and even a full bladder, hoping to finish just one last little part. This doesn’t mean that overachievers don’t know how to disconnect and relax.

True that they tend to work in the highest gear, but they also have enough sense to give themselves time to rest and recharge. Of course, they do it in their own overachieving way, preferring climbing Mount Kilimanjaro or hiking through the Amazon jungle to lazing on the beach.

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11. Overachievers Continuously Educate Themselves

A great quality that most overachievers have is the hunger for knowledge. They surround themselves with bright people. They know how to listen, and most importantly, they get tons of mentoring.

Despite the fact that overachievers want to excel at everything they set their minds on, they are humble enough to admit that to get on top of their game, they need help. And they are willing to pay someone to push, coach and guide them.

You too can learn How to Create a Habit of Continuous Learning for a Better You.

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Featured photo credit: Nghia Le via unsplash.com

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