We’ve all been there. We’ve been sitting in a lecture, conference call, discussion, meeting or class, lost in dreamland. Maybe you were legitimately stuck on a previous relevant point from the discussion, but in all likelihood you were thinking about a dream vacation, your secret crush, or something weird like how yogurt is made. Regardless, there is a discussion taking place and you haven’t comprehended a word for several minutes. Sometimes we’re subconsciously able to react appropriately in a non-verbal ways, nodding in agreement or laughing when others laugh, but eventually…
“Jose, what are your thoughts on Deb’s proposal?”
Uh-oh. All eyes are on you. You have less than three seconds to come up with some sort of response. How do you possibly react in this situation?
- Use logic and common sense to do your best to answer the question. Try to think of the last thing you heard. Consider what the discussion was about. You are in a meeting for a reason; you must have some semblance of a clue as to what is being discussed. Say the most sensible, least controversial thing you can think of.
- Give a very generic response, and pray there are no follow-up questions. “Yeah, I could get behind that idea. Nice work, Deb.” If you are asked to go further in-depth, you should just continue to speak in bland generalities like “Oh, no, I think Deb covered it pretty well. I think she really drove home her point. I’m in total agreement. Not sure what much else can be said!”
- If you’re on a phone or even online, you can easily pretend like there was a bad connection and have everything repeated.
- Say you need more time to carefully consider before answering. Pause for several more seconds and say something like “Hmm… yeah I’m thinking about it. Why don’t you come back to me.”
- If you’re in an office setting, rub your face really long and hard. Remove your glasses if you’re wearing any. Pretend like whatever was said really has you all out of sorts. Let out a big exasperating sigh. “Jesus Dan, I can’t get into this right now. We have enough shit on our plates we’re dealing with.” Maybe you’ll be taken seriously! Just hope that the discussion merited such a response and it wasn’t in regards to something trivial like cupcakes or something sensitive like heading up a collection for Joan from Accounting who was badly injured in an accident.
- Conversely, you could break out into laughter, shaking your head. “You have got to be kidding me, ha ha ha ha. I–I don’t even know how to answer that.”
- Just try to BS your way through it. Maybe you’ll say something close to sensible and won’t be questioned. But you can also look insane if your answer is too far off-base.
- Pass the question off to someone else, if applicable. “Oh, I have a response, but I’d be really interested in hearing what Kim thinks first. If she says what I think she’s going to say, then I have something to add.”
- Likewise, pretend like whoever is sitting next to you is going to answer for the both of you. Slyly turn to Buzz and say “Heh, why don’t you go ahead and field this one Buzz.” And then turn back, kick back in your chair, smile and overwhelmingly nod in agreement with everything Buzz says, half-heartedly attempting to interject a couple of times.
- Start a sneezing fit. Pause a few seconds, then let out a big sneeze. Then another. Then another. Just when it looks like you’ve recovered and you’re about to answer, sneeze one more time. Now you’re so distracted that you can ask to have the question repeated. “Oh man, wow, that last one really hurt my neck, oooowwww. Sorry, what was the question again?”
- Likewise, you could begin talking, but suddenly put your hand over your mouth, hesitate for a second, and then turn and run out of the room for the bathroom, making an emphatic vomiting sound the second you’re out of sight.
- Sometimes it’s effective to over-exaggerate how badly you were daydreaming. Instead of immediately snapping back to reality when called upon, continue to pretend to daydream until your turn has passed. Stare straight ahead, emotionless, oblivious to your name being called. “Jose? Jose… Hello… EARTH TO JOSE! Well folks, I think we’ve lost him. Janet, what do you think?”
- The natural reaction is probably to panic. The discussion leader may question whether you were paying attention, at which point you can just sit there and be accused but never fully admit to your daydreaming while the next person is called upon.
- Lastly, you can always just cut your losses, accept your fate, and admit you weren’t listening. “Sorry Dan, I have to be blatantly honest. I spaced out about twenty minutes ago.” Your lack of focus won’t be warmly received, but at least you won’t be forced into some sort of desperate move that likely won’t work. And if the reason you spaced out was because those speaking were really boring, maybe you just did them a big favor by bringing it to their attention.
Many will surely advise the best method is to simply pay attention in the first place, but that’s sometimes easier said than done. Maybe you aren’t interested in the topic at hand, or maybe you really do have lots on your mind. It happens to all of us, and ultimately it’s up to you to decide how much trouble you’ll get into if it’s discovered you weren’t listening. If you think you’ll be fired or sent to detention, you’d better at least try to stammer some sort of answer out. If it will be forgotten in five minutes, you’ll likely just want to admit the truth.
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My Hot Take:
This happened frequently to me in school. In college in a painting class, I was daydreaming when called upon to give a critique of a classmate’s painting project. I quick looked at the painting and noticed that from one angle the subject looked sort of like a hand, to which the class started snickering and the professor said “yes, we literally just spent the last five minutes discussing that very thing.” In business settings it has happened as well, and I always play it off by speaking in generalities and giving very brief responses. “What are your thoughts on that, Ryan?” “Uh, great! Everything sounds great!”
If you’re called upon when daydreaming, consider trying to answer the question to the best of your abilities, coming up with a diversion to avoid answering the question, or admit to not paying attention.