As an adult with ADHD, you may feel it is a stretch sometimes to be mindful with your words.
Conversations can be challenging, for sure. And, no doubt, part of your challenges with being more intentional in your speech is due to your ADHD. But it is also difficult because you have likely been operating in this way for a very long time. That is, you might go into conversations on autopilot.
And so over time, the way you have conversations may have become a firmly entrenched habit. The good news is it is possible to unlearn these habitual patterns, as well as manage the ADHD symptoms that contribute to your conversational missteps. And in doing so you can learn to participate with greater ease in the give-and-take of different types of conversations.
First, let’s look at some of the reasons why you might want to become a better listener.
Why Do You Want to Become a Better Listener?
You already have a general sense that being a good listener is, well, a good thing. True.
But it’s going to take a fair amount of energy and time to learn how to listen better. And you’ll be more willing to do the hard work if you can find the motivation. In part your motivation will come from of visceral connection to the reward — reasons why being a good listener is important to you.
You might want to listen better because you will be able to:
- build trusting and strong relationships. People will want to have a relationship with you more often when they feel they are really heard
- better understand the issues. And then devise creative solutions, if necessary. Listening carefully can help you get the whole picture before you go into problem-solving mode.
- avoid conflicts. People are less likely to become defensive when they feel they are being heard.
- feel calmer when you don’t feel the need to “run the show.” That is, instead of thinking of what to say, you can focus on actively listening.
What are your reasons for wanting to become a better listener? Are there specific ways you will benefit if you do?
4 Ways a Conversation Can Go Sideways When You Don’t listen
If you don’t listen as carefully as you would like yet, you’re probably making 1 or more of the 4 missteps below. And when you know what these are, you’ll be better able to target those areas for improvement. If that’s what you want.
The one obvious way a conversation can go sideways is if you tend to monopolize conversations and focus on yourself. This can happen when, no matter where the conversation goes, you relate it to your life. So, for example, you might say, “Oh, you broke your foot? A few years ago, I broke…” You get it.
Another slip-up you may be making is minimizing or discounting. For example, let’s say a friend is sharing their workplace challenges with you. You could say, “That sounds really tough.” Sounds empathetic, right? On the other hand, the person might feel discounted, unheard or even frustrated if you say, “Yeah all workplaces are like that.”
Conversations can also obviously go south if you are argumentative. When you are bent on making your point, you’re probably not able to listen to the other person very well. Whether it’s because you just want to be right or you feel strongly about a topic, being argumentative, of course, doesn’t resolve anything.
Last, you may not actively listen because you’re just not paying attention. It may be you’re not interested in what they’re saying or you’re distracted. That distraction might be something in your immediate environment or your own internal thoughts. Whatever it is, you’re not paying attention to what the other person is saying.
Any of the above sound familiar?
How Your ADHD Can Make It Hard To Listen
No doubt, the above 4 types of slip-ups are common for many people. But your ADHD may also magnify your chances of falling into one of the above conversational blunders. In part this is because your ADHD may make it challenging for you to listen 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, anger or excitement.
- maintaining interest in the content of the conversation.
- monitoring your actions so you do not speak impulsively.
Over the next few weeks pay attention to what gets in the way of your ability to actively listen, including your ADHD symptoms. Then you can decide what you want to do to practice being a more active listener. Below are a few tips you can try.
#1 Seek First to Understand
You’ve heard this one before. I know. But it really is the first rule of active listening. So, just in case you forgot, here it is again.
As an adult with ADHD sometimes you may feel misunderstood. So perhaps out of frustration, you may push your point of view. Because you want to make sure your point is heard. Makes sense, of course. But, consequently, you may not really hear and understand the other person’s perspective.
Then the conversation may go in circles and become even more frustrating for you! But if you really understand what the other person is saying, you may find you have more common ground than you initially thought. And one way to find this out is by reflecting what you heard.
You can do this by mirroring word for word what the other person said. Alternatively, you can use your own words and paraphrase what the speaker said. In either case, you are demonstrating you really comprehend what the speaker’s intent. The key to using this strategy is to withhold coming to any conclusions or asking any questions. As you’re just trying to understand…
#2 Ask Clarifying Questions
Sometimes it may make sense, though, to ask questions. Especially if you tend to get distracted. Because it can be hard to get all the details when you get lost along the way. Though I also know you may feel embarrassed at times to fess up to this. But the longer “your detour” the harder it will be to catch up, right?
So, don’t be afraid to let the other person know you didn’t catch everything.
Maybe you have some key phrases you already use. If you don’t, you could try to say something like:
- “That was a lot of information and I want to be sure I understand everything. Are you saying…?”
- “I’m not sure if I got all of that. Could you say that again?”
Then, if you didn’t quite catch everything, the other person can clarify what they meant. Maybe you think you’ll look bad for admitting you dropped the ball? I think you might be surprised. Most people will probably appreciate that you are trying to “catch up.” And are not just pretending to listen to them.
Then you’ll be back in the conversation. No harm, no foul.
#3 Ask for Permission to Interrupt
Sharing your two cents can be a great way to show you are actively listening. Of course, this is true as long as your contribution is relevant to what the speaker is saying. 😊 And you do not take over the conversation. But, rather, continue to allow for the give-and-take of the conversation. Make sense?
When you decide to share your thoughts, though, depends on the context. If you are talking to close family or friends, you may be able to interject easily. But, in other contexts, it may be tricky to interrupt graciously. Especially when there doesn’t seem to be a natural lull in the conversation and the other person doesn’t seem to be inviting your feedback.
I know you may think it is rude to interrupt, though. One of the strategies to use in situations where you’re not sure if it’s okay to share your thoughts is to ask permission. By doing so you don’t have to worry about appearing impolite. Because you’re asking for the go-ahead before interjecting.
If you have not tried this strategy before, you might be surprised at how people respond. In most cases, you’ll find the other person will gladly cede the floor. Because they don’t feel you are steamrolling them when they are able to give you permission. To do this you could try saying:
- “Do you mind if I interrupt for a sec?”
- “I have a thought about that. Do you mind if I share it?”
You get the idea. Use the words that feel authentic to you.
#4 Reserve Judgment
Last, sometimes it may be best to hold off trying to form and share your opinion during a conversation.
Especially, if it is sometimes hard for you to process information on the spot. You may choose instead to take the time you need to digest the conversation. And then think through what you want to say. By delaying your response you might also avoid speaking impulsively. And then potentially regretting your words later.
But I also know you might not want the other person to think you have no opinion about the topic. To avoid appearing as if you’re not thinking about the topic be up front. So, if you want to take time to think before forming and sharing your opinion, let them know. You could say something like, “I want to take some time to think about this.”
And then you could ask:
- “Is that okay if we get together next Monday to chat again?”
- “Do you mind if I get back to you by next Wednesday on this?”
Of course, you want to share your opinion. But you also want to respond in a way that feels right to you. And you may not always be able to do this in the moment.
Being an active listener can benefit you in several ways. Yet, your ADHD can make it a challenge to listen well. And, in part because of your ADHD, conversations may go sideways.
The good news, though, is you can change this. While it will take a fair amount of practice, you can improve your capacity to actively listen and participate in the give-and-take of your various conversations.
What can you try this week to become a better listener?