How ADHD Affects A Person’s Ability To Listen
Listening legend Dr. Ralph G. Nichols famously said, “The most basic of all human needs is the need to understand and be understood. The best way to understand people is to listen to them.” Unfortunately, people in general do not listen effectively.
Listening in Business
Statistics show that the lack of listening skills is a major problem in business today.
Listening tests have been conducted to see how much people retain after listening to a lecture or after receiving instructions from a supervisor. The test results show that, in general, people only remember about half of what they hear, even though they think they are listening very carefully.
After looking at the test results, one business owner stated, ”I’ve about decided that ‘listening’ is the most important link in the company and it’s obviously also the weakest one.”
This comment reflects part of an awakening that is taking place in businesses. Communication is an essential part of any business. Many businessmen are discovering that the spoken word is as important or more so than the written word because understanding hinges on the ability of others to listen effectively. In today’s world, using active listening gives a person a competitive advantage.
Everyone hears, but few listen.
Listening is no longer considered just an innate ability that we were born with. It is a skill everybody needs to actively develop.
Effective listening requires good concentration, which works contrary to how our brains process information. An average speaking rate is 125 words per minute. Whereas, our brain processes at about 60 bits per second or 225 words per minute, almost double the rate.
Because of the differential between thinking and speaking rates our brains have time for processing other thoughts. The key is how the extra time is used or misused.
Unfortunately, many people feel that the concentration needed to be a good listener is very difficult and not worth the effort. If we choose not to actively listen, misunderstandings often cause problems for ourselves and others.
The Bible tells us to “be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to become angry.” (KJV, James 1:19)
When we follow the Bible’s instruction, relationships grow and trust develops.
Listening and the ADHD brain
If the average person has trouble listening, where does that leave people with ADHD and their fast brain and/or hyperfocus?
“Because adults with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) are easily distracted by their environment and their own thoughts and feelings, listening to others is a challenge,” Beth Main, a certified ADHD coach.
Many adults with ADHD are quick to speak and slow to listen. They tend to blurt out answers or comments before the other person has even finished what they are saying.
The ADHDer often assumes they know what the other person is going to say. Because they have problems waiting, they hijack the sentence and finish it according to their assumption, right or wrong.
If the ADHDer discovers they are wrong, they often try to backpedal with an explanation, a justification, or an excuse.
Dennis, in the story below, is one who has problems listening and speaking carefully.
Dennis and Gracie
Dennis and Gracie, a young married couple, had been best friends during high school but found themselves in uncharted territory when Dennis revealed that he had been diagnosed with ADHD. This information explained to Gracie why dealing with him was often very difficult. Sometimes, what he did and said seemed like it was from outer space.
Gracie had been reading about ADHD and how it affected people, especially Dennis. She was also studying listening and how everyone talks slower than they think. As she thought back to her most recent conversation with Dennis. She began to understand. She remembered they were still sitting at the table after finishing breakfast.
Gracie: “We both have today off, so I was thinking that if we both work out in the yard we can get it finished. I know we talked about doing the deck first, we ….”
Dennis: “but we said we were going to do the deck first,” He interrupted.
But he is thinking: “But, I thought we were going to go get the supplies to start working on the deck so we could get that started. I have it all laid out in my mind and I want to get started. The yard isn’t that bad, if we just mow it’ll be okay for another week, but the deck really needs to have the broken boards fixed. We talked about this a few days ago.”
Gracie: “I think it’s important to do the yard first because…”
Gracie looked up at Dennis. His expression said he was far away in la..la land.
He is lost in thought again. Before listening to all Gracie said, he says in his mind. “I had this all planned out. Why do we keep on jumping from one project to another? A few days ago the deck was the most important, now the yard is. I can’t keep up. This is really stressing me out. I just don’t understand.”
Gracie: “What do you think?”
Dennis: “I don’t see why the yard is so important now?”
He is still lost in thought going over his plans for the deck.
Gracie: “I just told you. Didn’t you hear me?”
Dennis (raising his voice): “Of course, I heard you. I just don’t understand why you have to have everything your way after we have agreed.”
He became more and more frustrated. But he hadn’t listened to her comment about why she wanted to change the plan.
Gracie (calmly and slowly): “I told you that the neighborhood is having a special event next weekend and they would like for us to have our yard finished.
Dennis brought his mind back into the present conversation.
Dennis: “I’m sorry. I was lost in my own plans for the deck. If we’re having an event in the neighborhood, of course, the yard is first. Gracie, you’ve been talking about the problems that everyone has with listening, especially those of us with ADHD. I’m beginning to understand. What can I do to help me listen better?
Gracie: “I have found some tips for active listening, how to apply them, and the challenges people with ADHD face.”
Active Listening vs. Hearing
Merriam-Webster defines hearing as the “process, function, or power of perceiving sound; specifically: the special sense by which noises and tones are received as stimuli.” Listening, on the other hand, means “to pay attention to sound; to hear something with thoughtful attention; and to give consideration.”
‘Active Listening’ implies that the listener is giving their full attention and listening with all their senses. They are seeking to understand what the speaker is saying, whether in a lecture, instructions from a boss, or personal communications.
‘Hearing,’ results in the listener only remembering a small percentage of what was said.
Good listening and processing what is heard is important to help build strong relationships for all adults with or without ADHD. Adults with ADHD, then, have an even bigger challenge because of their difficulty in staying focused and not allowing their minds to wander.
5 Elements of Active Listening
These elements will help you make sure that you really hear and understand what the speaker is saying and confirms that you are actively listening.
- Pay attention
Give the speaker your full attention. Don’t allow yourself to be distracted by other thoughts, such as preparing a rebuttal.
- Struggling with inattentive traits causes ADHDers difficulty paying attention.
- First acknowledge, to yourself, that there are times when you aren’t a good listener This enables you to create strategies for listening and giving feedback.
- Ask the speaker to repeat necessary information, especially if the information is necessary to complete a task whether at home or at work.
- Take notes or record the information, whenever possible.
- If you’re in a class or lecture, sit in the front row to minimize distractions. Also, if possible, request a copy of the material ahead of time so you can follow along and have questions prepared.
2. Show You Are Listening
Your body language communicates whether you are listening or not. Use occasional nods, gestures, facial expressions, and small verbal comments like ‘Yes’ or ‘Aha” to tell the speaker you are engaged.
- It is often difficult for ADHDers to show they are following the speaker.
- Use the nonverbal responses as mentioned above.
- Learn how to read, understand, and use body language, gestures, voice tones and modulations, and emotions.
- Take notes. If you are unclear about what someone has said, make a note to ask at the appropriate time.
- To pay close attention, visualize what the other person is saying in story form.
- Pretend that you will be quizzed and that you will be asked to summarize the conversation.
- Do not focus on what you will say next. Focus on the speaker’s subject.
3. Provide Feedback
As a listener, it is your job to listen to what the speaker is saying, instead of allowing your personal judgments, assumptions, beliefs, or feelings to distract the meaning. If the message is not clear, it is the listener’s responsibility to ask questions and reflect back what was heard for clarification. For example: reflect what was said by paraphrasing. “What do you mean when you say…”, “Is this what you mean…?”
- Non-Stop Talking: Fight the need to say every thought that goes through your mind.
- Take a breath before starting.
- Respond to the key points you heard. Don’t try to say every thought that went through your mind.
- In a one-on-one conversation, hear the person out and respond according to what they have said. Don’t rush, but say everything you need to say, respectfully without changing the subject.
- Politely comment, without interrupting, if you need a few seconds to compose your thoughts in a one-on-one conversation, ask the other person to wait while you think.
- In a seminar, during the break, or after the lecture, ask the speaker to fill in the information you missed.
- Mentally repeat the important points being said.
4. Defer Judgment
Do not interrupt with counterarguments. Interruptions or rudely talking over the speaker wastes time, frustrates the speaker, and interferes with the full understanding of the message.
- Avoid trying to fix the other person or give them advice.
- Perhaps the other person just needs to vent or have someone to talk to.
- Don’t give advice or try to fix.
- Don’t give them your opinion, insinuating that they are wrong.
5. Respond Appropriately
When active listening is executed correctly it demonstrates respect and understanding. Putting the speaker down or attacking the speaker only causes problems and hurt feelings. Respectfully, give your candid, open, and honest response to what was said. Treat the other person the way you would want to be treated.
- Change the topic to talking about you or your thoughts about the subject or what was said.
- Talk about what you heard the other person say. Resist the urge to change the subject.
Dennis and Gracie began practicing active listening.
Dennis: “This is hard. I don’t know if I will ever get it.”
Gracie: “You’ll get there. Keep trying.”