It might seem listening should be easy. After all it seems like a pretty passive activity, right?
But in reality fully processing and understanding what somebody is saying to you isn’t always easy, especially for Adults with ADHD.
Sometimes it is… hard… really hard.
Sure, if you don’t care much about what the person is saying, you could get away with, “Uh ah, right, yes, sure…” And be on your way.
But what about those times when you do care and/or you need to remember and use the information the person is providing? You need to be able to actively listen.
If you struggle with being able to do this now, you can strengthen this muscle so you can flex it when you want.
ADHD and Listening
Over the next week pay attention to the ways in which your ADHD symptoms impact your ability to actively listen.
Specifically, see if listening is a challenge for you because you have a hard time:
- blocking out external distractions, such as random noises, conversations, phones ringing etc.
- tabling internal distractions, which could include thoughts about what the person is saying or totally unrelated thoughts.
- managing emotions, like frustration or excitement.
- maintaining interest in the content of the conversation.
- monitoring actions so you are not impulsive in words or action during the course of the conversation.
- with other symptoms of your ADHD that are not listed above.
Then you can decide which among the workarounds listed below may help you manage your symptoms so you can attend better when you want.
Listening and Context
The first step is to be clear about what you want / need from a conversation so you can decide how you want to listen.
Here are a few questions you can ask yourself to decide how carefully you need to listen:
- Is this just a casual conversation with a close friend or family member, and it is ok to have a free flowing conversation? There is no objective, other than to enjoy each other’s company. Maybe jumping from topic to topic is ok in conversations like these, and you don’t need to “close the loop” on any subject.
- Alternatively, is there an expectation by the other person, whether friend or family, that I listen and respond carefully? This could be the case because you are not close to the family or friend or it is business/professional setting.
- Is this the kind of conversation where I need to listen exceptionally carefully to this conversation because I will need to remember the content of the conversation and take specific actions afterward?
Not all conversations need the same level of attention. You decide.
Then you can decide whether you need to learn new strategies and skills so you can attend the way you want.
Getting a Heads-Up
One helpful strategy is finding out as much as possible about the conversation beforehand.
As is true for other Adults with ADHD, it may be hard for you to process a lot of new information in the moment.
You get thrown off
You can’t listen well.
Knowing and being able to process the information before having a conversation, ranging from just thinking about the topic to coming prepared with extensive notes, may make it easier for you to listen
To get the heads-up you need:
- Consider what you know about an upcoming conversation.
- If the information is not automatically provided, ask for what you need, whether it is just the topic or an agenda.
- Take the time you need to process the information in advance.
What can you do to get the heads up you need for your next conversation?
Creating the Optimal Environment
Another way to maximize your chances of being able to actively listen is to have your conversations in an environment that is optimal for you.
To figure out what kind of environment works best for you ask yourself:
- What time of day will work best for me for this type of conversation? Friday at 4:00 pm may not be the best time to have that sensitive conversation with your boss. Likewise, Wednesday night when you are exhausted from a day of work and kids might not be the best time to discuss finances.
- What is the best place to have this conversation? Trying to have a conversation about finances while making dinner with the kids running around will obviously make it hard to listen. Likewise, talking to your boss about a sensitive topic in an open area could also be distracting for you.
So, as much as possible choose the time of day and place that will make it easier for you to listen.
Giving It Your Best
While preparing in advance is certainly helpful, the actual conversation will be the time when the rubber hits the road.
And you will need additional strategies, such as the ones below, to attend well.
- Taking notes can help you focus on what the speaker is saying. It can also help you remember the information so that, rather than running the risk of interrupting, you can respond or ask questions at the appropriate time.
- Be curious. Asking questions can help you check your understanding and maintain your interest.
- Reflecting back what the speaker said by paraphrasing or restating is another way to check your understanding, as well as stay engaged in the conversation. You could try this, “So, you are saying… Did I get that right?”
- Clarifying is sometimes necessary, if you are getting lost in the details. You could say something like, “That is a lot of information, and I want to be sure I understand your key points. Are you saying…?” Then, if you have it wrong, they will have an opportunity to clarify what they meant.
- Sharing relevant information is great, as it can show you are actively listening. But, if you tend to blurt out whatever is on your mind, before doing so, ask yourself, “Is this directly related to what they are saying?” Remember less is more. 😉
- Taking a break when you feel overloaded and overwhelmed in a conversation can be a key strategy to staying engaged. You may just need just a short “bathroom” break. Alternatively, you may want to request that you pick up the conversation another time.
Which of the following strategies do you use now and which would you like to try in the next week in your personal and professional conversations?
Question For You
What are your challenges with listening? What are you going to experiment with over the next few weeks so you can become a more active listener?