how to respond to'what do you think of my house?'
September 4, 2011 11:56 AM   Subscribe

Help me with a simple, polite, but to the point response.

This happens to me often enough to be a problem. I'm sure variations occur in many other professions. I am an Architect;. so I visit someone's house, they ask me what I do, or I am introduced, and I can hear it coming....'what do you think of this room? what would you do with this kitchen?.......' Cringe. I've learned to look quickly for something to praise, and switch the subject fast. I hate this. To do justice there needs to be a serious discussion of the situation, determine a budget, examine the area, ask alot of questions, maybe measure, take photos.....dig in and look at all angles. There are several approaches to this; 1. a stranger could be a potential client, and I need the work. A short conversation could be followed by, call me on Mo. But family or friends is harder. There are several common reactions. One is silence, even defensiveness, and my careful diplomacy has failed. The question was not sincere, or was asked out of an insecurity. Or, sometimes, after really trying to help, asking questions, allowing that there could be several fixes, but not knowing the person or their lifestyle well, I know they feel let down. No quick answer from me; in fact, I often have complicated things. Or I seem stupid, not grasping their dilemma, and not coming up with a quick answer.

I love the REAL work, the investigation and thoughtfulness and problem-solving. That's a job. THIS is usually disappointing.
posted by ebesan to Human Relations (33 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
"I am an architect not an interior designer."
posted by Max Power at 11:58 AM on September 4, 2011 [6 favorites]

"I'll need to be paid upfront for the consultation."
posted by Sys Rq at 11:59 AM on September 4, 2011

I don't think you really get the reason they're asking that question. You're an architect; they have a house; ergo, they have an conversation starter (or so they think). It's not a consultation, so don't think of it that way. They don't ACTUALLY need a renovation or whatever, they're just trying to get some chat started.
posted by showbiz_liz at 12:01 PM on September 4, 2011 [43 favorites]

"I'd talk your ear off given half a chance, but I had to promise my spouse I'd stop bringing my work home with me. Here's a card if you want to set up a consultation. Really nice windows, by the way."
posted by jsturgill at 12:02 PM on September 4, 2011 [47 favorites]

If you were a dentist people would ask you about their teeth. If you were a doctor people would ask you about their tennis elbow. If you were a programmer people would ask you to fix their printer.

This just comes with the territory.

Maybe reply, "Heh heh. Yeah, I dunno. If you're really interested in an evaluation, let me know during working hours, okay?"
posted by k8t at 12:03 PM on September 4, 2011

If the question is phrased so that you can answer "it's nice!" then do that.

If it's phrased in a way that demands a more thorough assessment, say "look, I'd be doing both of us a disservice if I just spouted off some ideas off the top of my head. If you really want to dig into this, let's set up a meeting so I can handle the question with the professionalism it deserves."
posted by adamrice at 12:03 PM on September 4, 2011 [4 favorites]

"Yes, I love what I do, but I'm off the clock and just enjoying myself right now."
posted by MonkeyToes at 12:03 PM on September 4, 2011

"i can tell you, but then i'd have to charge you." then smile.
posted by violetk at 12:03 PM on September 4, 2011 [12 favorites]

disagree with the first two answers, they sound defensive. these people are just being conversational, they're not expecting a real answer. how about "are you thinking of having some work done?" that deflects it back to them and gives them a chance to talk about themselves, which people really dig. in my opinion you are overthinking it - they're just chatting. forget that you're an architect and just chat back.
posted by facetious at 12:04 PM on September 4, 2011 [44 favorites]

"Oh, man. I need so much time and information to even be able to begin to formulate a professional response to that question. I can give you my card if you want to call me on Monday, but this is a social visit, please don't make me work!" Say it with a laugh, then toss off something like "I love those curtains" or "The living room layout is great" or really anything nice you can say with a straight face -- "You don't see crown molding like that any more" if you're desperate -- and get on with the event.

On preview, "Are you thinking of having something done? Call me if you want a consult" is good too.
posted by KathrynT at 12:07 PM on September 4, 2011 [1 favorite]

Wander around the room pretending to examine it. Then say something like "not bad, but if there's something you'd like to change, let me know and we'll set up an appointment."
posted by Gilbert at 12:08 PM on September 4, 2011

"I don't know, what do you think about it?"
posted by rhizome at 12:08 PM on September 4, 2011 [2 favorites]

I teach people how to negotiate and manage conflict. My friends often ask me for my professional advice on dealing with an impossible co-worker or difficult conversation...but they really just want me to listen to them and empathize. So I have a rule: I don't answer the question unless they ask three times.

I think a similar trick would work for you. Try this:

Friend: "Ebesan, what do you think of this room?"
You: "Huh! Well, how is it working for you?" (Most of the time, this will be sufficient -- they'll get to chat about their feelings and thoughts. If not....)
Friend: "Well, you're the architect. I want to know what YOU think."
You: "I think it's a common layout. What do you think?" (This will divert most folks, but if they really persist....)
Friend: "Seriously! I want your opinion."
You: "Well, I'd be happy to help, but I would have to do a lot of research into the construction here. Is there a particular problem you need help with?"

As showbiz_liz points out, they're probably not looking for a real consultation, and your first two responses will help winnow out the ones who really need help vs. the ones just looking to share their thoughts or start a conversation.
posted by equipoise at 12:11 PM on September 4, 2011 [29 favorites]

If you want to prevent this kind of question, bear in mind that when you say, "I'm an architect," you are not saying enough. Don't leave the sentence hanging their in the air! Finish it with any of the following:

"What do you do?"
"Where did you study?"
"What's for dinner?"

If they follow up with a question about their specific architecture, and it's a bit of work you're actually interested in doing, then suggest they give you a call for a consultation. Offer a card. I like KathrynT's suggestion.

But seriously. Just saying "I'm an architect," is an invitation to some kind of question.

And yes, dentists get this all the time. "I have this molar that's been bothering me" or "My regular dentist is always screwing me over, can you give me a better deal?"

As a knitter, I get this a lot too if I'm not careful! Mostly, "will you make me a sweater?" In my experience, these requests are never offers for work, they are uninformed flattery or greedy. So, off the bat, I just say, "$25 an hour, you buy all the materials. This sweater I made myself took ____ hours."
posted by bilabial at 12:11 PM on September 4, 2011 [3 favorites]

I like rhizome's answer because it opens up a proper dialogue where they can steer the direction and give you a hint of whether they're fishing for compliments, making small talk, or really wanting to do some work. You could always say something along the lines of, "Why? Are you thinking of making some changes?" and they might mention something, even half-heartedly, and you can say, "Well, here's my card if you're interested in an evaluation. If you're really interested in [knocking down that wall/adding a skylight/building a conservatory/demolishing your house and building a castle], I'd love the opportunity to discuss it with you at my office [or to make an appointment with you at your house] next week and give you an estimate".

That way, you're sort of deflecting the question but best of all, you're opening yourself up to getting actual leads.
posted by 1000monkeys at 12:13 PM on September 4, 2011 [1 favorite]

Unless you are quite a purist, there should be something to praise. I love the warmth of old wood; just how old is your house? or You've done a great job of decorating it. or Did you add the wainscoting or was it here? If it's a shoddily-built 60's split-level ranch in the original avocado, orange and brown, you're on your own. Once you've found something pleasant to say, ask them how they chose the house, how long they've lived there, what they love about it, etc. Or turn the conversation to some other topic.
posted by theora55 at 12:20 PM on September 4, 2011 [1 favorite]

I'm in pediatrics and I hang out with a lot of moms. facetious and rhizome have it--if you're not up to really engaging with the person professionally, simply invite them to talk. When I'm asked questions, I usually say, "what has you concerned?" Then they talk, and I usually say, "you have a lot of decent concerns that I would totally take to your pediatrician." That way, they feel listened to by a professional, and I have given them "advice." In your case, what facetious and rhizome suggested is similar. After they have a chance to lay their thoughts out to a professional ear, you can simply praise them for their thoughts and encourage them to follow up with the professional of their choice.

Also, though, leave a little room for when you feel like engaging with others from your prospective. Like you, a real assessment of a friend's concern would involve actually seeing their kid in the office, but I still have a well-earned and educated prospective where I can provide ideas and advice above and beyond a lay peer. Like you, I may not always want to (I want to be able to just have a glass of wine and enjoy gossip with friends without it turning into a potty training consultation), but there are plenty of times I don't mind. So think about how you want to establish those boundaries and stick to them. Is it okay for close friends and family to give you a call for a "free" initial consultation or brainstorming session? Do you mind talking shop at a social event where something really piques your interest? Or never in that scenario? People learn pretty quickly when it's okay to pick your professional brain.
posted by rumposinc at 12:21 PM on September 4, 2011 [5 favorites]

I think equipoise's rule is pretty fair. It's much nicer than my flippantly rueful response from when people asked for free appraisals back in the day: "Oh, jeez - I left my work brain at the office."
posted by peagood at 12:35 PM on September 4, 2011

People are just trying to make conversation. If a cat walked by, they'd talk about that.

If you don't want to engage in superficial conversation, be polite and steer the conversation away from you (maybe towards the cat).
posted by mleigh at 12:43 PM on September 4, 2011 [1 favorite]

Interesting. As a maths teacher, I kind of get this in reverse. As almost everyone has spent years at a school, and it's never far from the news, perhaps people feel qualified to comment.
Occasionally people start asking me random maths problems, they have half remembered.

I just consider it as people looking for a connection, and steer the conversation to other/wider topics. (On preview: what mleigh has just suggested).
posted by 92_elements at 12:50 PM on September 4, 2011

Huh, I disagree with the vast majority of the responses here, which is pretty rare. But I don't think these people are trying to get work out of you for free. If we're talking about friends and family, they just want to have an architect say something nice about their house. I don't think the dentist comparison quite applies, because people often have a real personal investment and a sense of pride in their home. It's more like if you were a professional musician, and they asked you what you thought of their singing. In that situation, an actual assessment is not what they really want. Just look around, say something nice about the house, and move on. You say that often "The question was not sincere, or was asked out of an insecurity." I would assume this is the case all the time.
posted by Ragged Richard at 12:58 PM on September 4, 2011

I'd be kind of offended if I asked someone a chatty question and they implied that I was trying to bilk them out of free services. Were I you I'd just respond with something amiably vague.
posted by threeants at 1:06 PM on September 4, 2011 [5 favorites]

"Oh, it's fabulous the way it is!" [smile] "So, how bout them Yankees?"
posted by J. Wilson at 1:09 PM on September 4, 2011

They are merely making conversation, the content of what they are asking is not as important to them as having a tool with which to demonstrate a willingness to relate to to you in some way, this is what some linguists (eg Deborah Tannen) call a metamessage. You should turn it back on them and let them talk about whatever crap springs to mind. Can still be highly irritating if you let it, no doubt. I can sympathise. Especially if it sounds to you like "wow, an architect! Oh boy, I've never met an exotic beast such as an architect before!1!" and you're like "what, am I trapped in a human zoo exhibit? Where's the nearest exit?" but try being any kind of teacher and see what kind of stupid things people say to you. (Like the other night: "Are you? You look like a teacher". To which I did not reply "You look like a moron!")
posted by Coaticass at 1:44 PM on September 4, 2011 [2 favorites]

Agreeing with "it's just a conversation starter." Just sorta go with the flow.

I'm a birdwatcher, so I always get these, which I'm not very adept at answering:

"Oh I saw this brown bird the other week....would you know what it was?"
"Do you remember how big it was?"
"Not really."
"Do remember what it was doing?"
"Sitting in a tree."
"Was it singing?"
"Yes! But I don't remember the song..."
"..........maybe spots on it's breast?"
"Oh it was definitely a Brown Thrasher. Buy a bird book and learn about them! So fun. *Flees*"
posted by DisreputableDog at 3:13 PM on September 4, 2011

I too think it is just a conversation starter. I am a lawyer and rarely am asked for true legal advise for their specific problem. But a lot of people might generic legal questions to get to conversation started and to find a common frame of reference. I think it is nice that they are trying to engage in a conversation that they think interests me.

And thank your lucky stars that there aren't television shows centered around the architecture profession.
posted by murrey at 5:15 PM on September 4, 2011 [1 favorite]

Well, what works for you isn't really an architectural question...
posted by dougrayrankin at 5:58 PM on September 4, 2011

just say it's nice and move on. they're just looking for confirmation that they're not living in a shithole. if they ask you specific questions just say that you'd have to think about it and couldn't give an answer offhand. very simple to deflect these sorts of things. you don't have to take any question as if your professional reputation is at stake. they're not clients.
posted by canned polar bear at 6:33 PM on September 4, 2011

I really like the suggestion from facetious and will be stealing it. My default has been, as you said, to find something nice, but I think that it could combine well if it's super-casual - "It's such a bright kitchen! Are you thinking of getting work done?"

That way, you've done the flattery (and there's always something positive to say), taken the conversational prompt if that's what they intended, and will know clearly if they're asking for professional advice.

If you figure out what to do when someone persists with "C'mon, just sketch on a napkin! Dimensions? Don't be so uptight, I'm just asking for some ideas!", I'd love to know.
posted by carbide at 3:59 AM on September 5, 2011

carbide, surely that's when you start sketching out something completely outrageous? Demand that they chop the space into Japanese "capsule hotel"-style spaces for guests because they're "all the rage these days" or something...
posted by pharm at 9:15 AM on September 5, 2011 [1 favorite]

I beg to differ, Murrey... architect is THE pre-eminent TV/movie profession for guys.

From Mike Brady to Ted Mosby, from Tom Hanks' character in Sleepless in Seattle to Joseph Gordon-Levitt in “500 days of Summer, to Steve Martin in "It's Complicated...” The go-to profession to indicate brainy-yet-sexy dude has always been architect.
posted by I_Love_Bananas at 5:28 PM on September 5, 2011

Adding- women know this and will zero in on any self-professed architect not for architectural advice, but because film and TV have conditioned us to see them as brainy-yet-sexy, thus desirable! We want to see living proof since few of us ever encounter real architects in the wild.
posted by I_Love_Bananas at 5:30 PM on September 5, 2011

I_Love_Bananas, I think Murray was referring to the numerous shows involving the practice of law, not just identifying a character's profession. I'm a lawyer and cocktail party conversation questions range from "what do you think of [insert latest national/nancygrace legal case obsession]" to a legal situation, from a bust to the condo board's latest power grab and everything in between by well-meaning folks "educated" in law by LA Law, Ally McBeal, The Practice, and Boston Legal.

I call it David Kelley's curse. People think they can ask a lawyer a simple question and get a straightforward answer, retain a lawyer over a joke, present their side of a case to the judge in a preliminary (usually motion to dismiss) hearing (and the strength of the party's conviction rather than the strength of the law always wins the day!), and either way, everyone goes to trial in, oh, about a month from when suit is filed.

Of course, the reality is disappointing to clients who don't have real-life knowledge about litigation. But in casual conversation, this often translate to the idea that the RIGHTNESS of their position and the many many wrongs (material or not) committed by the other party should be enough under the law to prevail. And it's all very simple really, this practice of law. But then, cameras would drop asleep if they had to film all the research and analysis that lawyers really do.

Anyhoo, what I do when someone asks me about their (or their friend's, family member's, acquaintance's) legal issue is make sympathetic noises unless it appears that they are wanting me to tell them what to do. In the industry, we call that "legal advice". It is literally what we charge for. I explain (correctly) that "real" legal advice has to be based on a thorough understanding of the facts/chronology of events and then a lookseedoo (I don't use that word) at the current applicable law (in case some case was decided YESTERDAY on those same facts) filtered through the lens of the client's general goals and specific objectives in the matter.

That said, I drop some general legal knowledge. Maybe a bit about what they can expect, a bit about the procedure, some general legal advice about getting things in writing, mediating v litigation, what withhold adjudication means, where they can find the chapter in the state statutes that govern landlord/tenant, condos, crimes, marriage dissolution, etc. Whatever's applicable.

I ask questions, but stress that (honestly) if they want to discuss the specifics of their case, I need to be armed with a yellow pad and waaaaay more sober/less distracted.

Then I give them my card, tell 'em I'd be happy to discuss it with them, and sincerely wish them good luck either way with a warm smile and touch to the arm.

Unlike architects, most regular folks may need or know someone who needs a lawyer and may remember me. People love to recommend lawyers they know.

Gosh, I hope any of that was helpful to you. Good luck.
posted by Jezebella at 9:15 PM on September 6, 2011

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