ADHD and Problems Listening
Communication issues stemming from ADHD begin in childhood, but continue on into adulthood. Because adults with ADHD are easily distracted by their environment and their own thoughts and feelings, listening to others can be a challenging. This is true in all kinds of settings, from one-on-one conversations to classroom lectures to work meetings.
Executive function acts as our ‘brain manager’ in coordinating our thoughts, actions and ability to plan. It is responsible for sorting through all the complex information we encounter, from paying attention to the right voice in a classroom to organizing responses in the midst of a rapidly-paced discussion. When executive function is impaired, as with ADHD, it can have consequences for listening.
How does this show up? If you have ADHD, it can feel like the disorder hijacks your conversations. For example, you interrupt people without thinking about it. Or you don’t pay close attention and miss important details, like instructions your boss is giving you or where you’re supposed to meet friends. This can harm personal and work relationships.
Tips for Improving Your Listening Skills
Smitha Bhandari, MDat WebMD has some excellent suggestions for overcoming the most common listening problems associated with ADHD.
Talking too much – Ask questions frequently to let the other person have their say, too. Silently repeat what’s said to you to keep your focus on listening rather than talking.
Losing track of what was said – During the conversation, take notes or ask the other person if it’s OK to use your phone to record the conversation.
Interrupting – You may interrupt because you’re afraid you’ll forget to say something important. Train yourself to become aware of how often you interrupt, mentally rehearse not interrupting, and apologize when you do interrupt someone.
Getting the words right – Try to organize your thoughts, but If the right words don’t come to you, get back to the person later. If you’re not sure they understood what you said, ask them to repeat back what they heard. This will help avoid misunderstandings.
Going off the topic – Ask a close friend or partner to give you a subtle signal so you’ll know if you stray from the main topic of the conversation.
Zoning – Make eye contact with the person you are talking to. This can keep you focused on the discussion and help you pick up on the nonverbal communication cues like facial expressions. Where possible, attemp to have conversations in quiet places that are free of distractions.
ADHD coach Marla Cummins also has important recommendns for how ADHD adults can improve their listening skills.
ADHD can make listening a challenge, but the good news is that your listening skills can be improved with practice and awareness.