Sally walked into the living room as she does every day, said hi to her husband, Peter, sitting on the couch, and she asked him about his day. As he turned to answer her, she started thinking about dinner. Suddenly Sally became aware she was in the kitchen mindlessly looking through cupboards searching for a snack! She’d asked her husband about his day, yet hadn’t waited around long enough to listen to his answer. What the heck was wrong with her?
She marched back into the living room, sat herself down on the couch, turned to Peter and said, “I’m sorry love, but let’s do that again. How was work today?” At first, he was suspicious. Having lived with her behavior for fifteen years, Peter was used to not bothering to answer. However, Sally continued to sit quietly without speaking, making eye-contact so he decided to answer her.
The next ten minutes were enlightening for Sally. Horrifyingly so. It was painful for her to stay seated and fully present while Peter spoke. She squirmed, itched and twitched wanting desperately to get up and leave. She became aware of how her attention drifted off on a million tangents. She felt drained by the amount of energy required to sit quietly without interrupting as Peter spoke. But she felt pleased with her self-discipline because the outcome was worth it. Her husband was more attentive than usual, and she felt closer to him.
When she eventually wandered off to the kitchen to prepare dinner, Sally made a promise to herself to work on paying attention to others when she asked questions.
ADHD and Listening
Staying focused and truly listening can be challenging if you have ADHD. It is also challenging for friends, partners and colleagues who are trying to talk to you. In your enthusiasm, you tend to interrupt too often, which makes others feel you are not really listening. Another thing you might do is jump in with your story when the other person is sharing something. It can come across as though you are always grabbing the limelight, but in fact it’s just your enthusiasm and desire to connect that motivates you.
Let’s not forget the ADHD forgetfulness! Because of short term memory deficits, an idea can come into your brain one minute but the disappear the next. This means that if you wait until it’s your turn to speak, you’ll have a blank out. It’s this fear of forgetting your point that makes you interrupt when someone else is speaking. Naturally, it’s annoying for the other person when you do this.
To help you listen, here are some tips
Tip 1. When asking your partner/child about their day, make a conscious effort to sit still and focus deeply on their answer. Look at them when they are speaking to you as this will help you stay present. If you have no intention of hanging around for the answer, then don’t ask the question in the first place.
Tip 2. If someone is telling a story, keep reminding yourself that no matter how great your story is, this time is about them and not you. Reassure yourself that it’s no big deal if you forget what you want to say. Keep your focus on ‘the other’, and don’t get stuck inside your head because the pressure to speak will become too much.
Tip 3. If you are in a business meeting, take notes, doodle or sketch things you want to say so you don’t worry you’ll forget. This will help you stay focused and let the speaker finish without interruption. If you are with a friend, it’s not appropriate to write notes. However, my friend and I have an understanding. If she is bursting to say something, she quickly says, “I need to say this before I forget”. She blurts out her point in a one-liner, then I go on to finish my narrative. She can now sit and concentrate on me because she knows we will come back to her point. It works well because we both understand what’s going on and why. And of course, while someone is speaking, ask questions and get more detail. This helps you to stay focused on them, keeps your mind engaged in the conversation instead of drifting off, and makes the speaker feel heard.
With a touch of self-awareness, a pinch of self-discipline and an ‘it’s about them’ mindset, you will soon notice a huge improvement in your ADHD listening skills.
Happy Listening, Everyone.