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December 7, 2016

Caught zoning out in a meeting? Here's how to save face.

Daily Briefing

Editor's note: This story was updated on October 5, 2017.

It's common to zone out during a conversation or meeting. Writing for The Muse, Kat Boogaard suggests a four-step response plan for that horrifying moment when you're called out for inattention.

1. Resist rambling.

When you're initially called on after letting your mind drift away from the topic at hand, Boogaard says, "your first inclination might be to just start talking in a futile attempt to cover up the fact that your mind was wandering."

Boogaard advises against this course of action, since "it won't do you any favors."

If it wasn't already clear you were zoning out, Boogaard says your rambling will make it obvious. It will also make it seem as though you don't have any interest in rejoining the conversation. Instead, Boogaard says you must "own your blunder."

2. Apologize.

Once you've taken a breath and resisted the urge to ramble, Boogaard recommends apologizing to your colleagues.

"You need to have some humility and apologize for the fact that you weren't completely focused, rather than trying to sweep your inattention under the rug altogether," she says.

If you want to assure your colleagues that you weren't zoning out the entire meeting, you can mention an earlier part of the discussion you actually did listen to. Boogaard also suggests putting some of the blame on the fact you were "still wrapping [your] head around" a previous topic.

3. Ask for a refresher.

"There's no way around the fact that you're just going to need to flat out ask for a recap of what you missed," says Boogaard.

When requesting a brief summary of what you missed, Boogaard suggests reassuring your colleagues that you're gearing up to add thoughtful insight.  

The health benefits of walking meetings

4. Answer meaningfully

The final step to recovering from your blunder is to provide a thoughtful response.

Boogaard suggests listening closely to the recap your colleague provides, and using it to make a meaningful comment or suggestion. If you're at a loss, Boogaard says you can instead ask thoughtful follow-up questions that "keep the wheels turning." If your engagement is helpful enough, your colleagues will move on from your blunder and you will be in the clear, Boogaard says.

That is, until the next time you zone out.

To prevent daydreaming from becoming a habit, Boogaard suggests taking notes during meetings to keep yourself engaged (Boogaard, The Muse/Fast Company, 12/2).

Prevent daydreaming by running better meetings

How to have a great meeting

There are about 11 million formal meetings in the United States every day—and more than half of them may be unproductive. Why? Because many meetings are inefficiently run. They don't set or achieve clear goals. And we hold them out of habit.

It's clear that many meetings are unnecessary. But if you do have to assemble, there are simple solutions to make that meeting a success. Drawing on best practices—as well as lessons from across our own organization—we've created this useful infographic to guide if you really need a meeting (and if so, how to maximize everyone's time).

Download the Infographic

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