Listening Problems for Adults with ADHD
For adults with ADHD, listening can be a challenge. Inattention and being easily distracted are two of the symptoms of ADHD that make focusing on a conversation or a lecture doubly difficult. This can often manifest in several ways. For example, Michele Novotni PhD at ADDitude.com identifies these common listening problems:
- Non-stop talk where you voice every though in your (overactive) mind and no one else can speak
- Not participating so the other person feels you are not interested
- Making conversation a monologue about you
- Frequently interrupting someone while they are speaking
- Tuning in and out of conversations as your attention wanders
Tips for Being a Better Listener When You Have ADHD
There are a number of straightforward strategies you can use to help you become a better listener. Below are several recommended by Margarita Tartakovsky, M.S. at Psych Central.
Paraphrase – Repeating back to your conversation partner what you heard them say reinforces the conversation in your mind, shows the other party you are interested, and keeps you engaged in the overall flow of the conversation.
Take notes – Writing down key points and questions you have is a great aid when you are receiving instructions or listening to a lecture. Alternatively, you can ask someone giving instructions to write them down or send them in email to avoid any potential confusion.
Avoid focusing on your next sentence – Avoid thinking about what you are going to say next when you are in a conversation. This can actually help you be better informed about what the other person is saying and you will be more likely to make an appropriate response when it is your turn to speak.
Ask for key points – It is easy to become distracted if someone is rambling or getting mired down in details that are not of interest to you. If that happens, ask them for the key points they are trying to make to get the conversation back on track.
Put the conversation in context – Try to connect what the other person is saying with something you already know. Making this kind of connection will help keep you anchored in the dialogue. If you are having trouble making such a connection, ask the person you are talking with to help you make one.
Visualize the story – Many who have ADHD are visual thinkers. Try imaging what the other person is saying like a movie playing. Let your mind create images of all the colorful details associated with the conversation.
Listening Sills Can be Improved with Practice
The good news is that listening skills can be learned. Two things you can do to help accelerate your listening learning curve, suggested by Laura Rolands, an ADHD Coach, include:
Practice listening with a friend or co-worker whom you know and trust – Take turns telling each other something about a recent event. Make it short, but long enough to tax your listening skills, say 2-4 four minutes. When your friend is done talking, reflect the story back to him or her and ask for feedback. Discuss what got in the way of your listening and brainstorm ways you can listen more actively in the future. Then reverse roles and tell your friend something of interest. Practice this a few times each week and keep track to see if your listening skills have improved.
Become aware of when you are listening or not – Often the first step to becoming a better listener is to notice when you listen well and actively. By noticing when you listen, you can focus on recreating the positives of those situations in the future. What is the environment? How is the speaker speaking? What did you eat for breakfast? How much sleep did you get last night? By noticing the positive listening experiences that you have, you can be more mindful of creating those experiences again in the future. After you notice the positive of when you listen well, you might also want to take notice of when you do not listen so well. How can you use the strengths you identified above to make the situations where you don’t listen well better?
Together, practice and awareness can help you hone your active listening skills.