Like children, dogs and nomads, minds tend to wander. And they often decide to wander at inopportune times – such as during that 4:30 meeting on the Friday before a long weekend.
There you are in your Aloha shirt standing over a grill full of sizzling beef patties, hand wrapped around an icy bottle (or whatever your long weekend fantasy might be) ...
And then, BOOM, you hear your name, then a question – and your wandering mind is yanked through space and time back to the present. Back to the conference room.
They’re all looking at you. And they want an answer.
You’ve been caught day dreaming. So, what do you do?
When a question comes your way and you haven’t been paying attention, don’t understand it or just don’t have a response on the tip of your tongue, buy yourself some time by restating the question, suggests Christina Zila, president of the VYP Toastmasters.
“Adding a neutral observation,” Zila continues, “like, ‘that's a really interesting question’ also helps free your brain to concentrate on the question at hand.”
Allow us to add: If you choose to stall by restating the question, restate it in such a way that makes it appear as though you’re trying to get clarification in order to provide a better answer.
Avoid the following type of exchange:
Boss: “So, valued employee, what do you think about the suggestion that we incubate front-end supply chains?”
You: “Uh … what do I think about the suggestion that we incubate front-end supply chains?”
2. Hot Potato
If you stalled but still can’t come up with something to say, try lobbing the question back at the person who asked it, says Zila.She suggests something along the lines: Why is that important to you? or that's a unique perspective or how did you come to that idea?
“This buys you more time,” she says, “and gives you insight into the asker's opinion or history with the subject.”
But beware, both the Stall and the Hot Potato carry risk.
“I really don't appreciate hearing a question turned around into a statement, just to tread water. I also have little respect for those who yammer on, for the same reason,” says Mitchell Weiss, adjunct professor of finance at Hartford University.
3. Small Bite
Rather than trying to give a comprehensive answer, choose to discuss just one small tidbit that you picked up before your mind started to wander, suggests Shannon Mouton of Topaz Consulting.
“Instead of trying to comment on the entire discussion, pick one small detail for which you may have an opinion and focus your remarks on that piece,” she says.
Or, you can deflect the question and stroke a colleague’s ego at the same time.
“If you really don't have an opinion on any part of the discussion, then say so in a tactful manner -- such as, ‘I defer to to Bob's opinion, he's the expert on this,’ ” Mouton says.
5. Fess Up
If you have nothing to say, you should consider saying that.
“If I ask a question and someone doesn’t know the answer, I want them to tell me that they don’t know the answer. No technojargon. No doublespeak. No BS,” says Eric Loyd, CEO of voice over Internet firm Bitnetix.
“Honesty is always the best policy. Even if the answer is I'm sorry, my mind wandered and I didn't quite catch the question. Can you repeat it?” Loyd says. “If you tell me something just because you think I want to hear it, or you tell me something that makes no sense just because you wanted to hear yourself speak, then you have no value to my organization and I will give your job to someone else.”
(I think we can all agree that you don’t want to BS Eric Loyd!)