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How You Can Help ADHD Adults Improve Their Ability To Listen 

3 active listening exercises and techniques to develop better communication

Does it seem like the ADHD adults in your life are always on the phone or focused somewhere else when you try to talk to them? It’s very difficult to have a meaningful conversation when you get silence in return.

Active Listening

Good communication is essential in every area of our lives. Speaking and writing skills are important to be able to share our thoughts and ideas. Active listening skills, though, are a fundamental element of good communication often overlooked.

Active Listening is more involved than just hearing words the other person says. It requires giving the other person your full attention, consciously analyzing what is being said, asking questions to understand, and doing what is necessary to retain the information. It also involves listening for the tone of voice, which gives information about the speaker’s emotions and intent. 

Active listening also involves making sure the listener gives feedback to the speaker to let the speaker know they are listening. The speaker can tell when the listener is “zoned out.” When a person is listening, they make eye contact, and give non-verbal cues, like nodding their head, and saying things like, “yeah” or “okay.”  The listeners also ask questions and reply with insightful comments.

If the listener is looking at their phone, watching TV, surfing the internet, or distracted by something else, they are not actively listening. 


The Problem for ADHD Adults

Unfortunately, listening is difficult for ADHD adults. The characteristics of inattention, distraction, impulsivity, and hyper-focus cause communication problems. 

These behaviors often result in misunderstandings and frustrations. They can even cause conversations to end in a heated debate, argument, and hurt feelings.

Good News!!

Anyone, including ADHD adults, can learn active listening skills. Laura Rolands, an ADHD Coach, suggests that ADHD adults practice active listening with a non-ADHD friend whom they know and trust. They take turns telling each other about an event, or something they are both interested in.

Non-ADHD adults need to recognize that ADHD adults may have problems focusing on the conversation or contributing to it at first. 

Included below are some behavior problems of ADHD adults and descriptions of workarounds or solutions that can be used in practice sessions or anytime you need to communicate with an ADHD adult.

When you try to show them how their behavior appears to others they often respond, “I’m inside the box. I can’t even see that stuff. I just see the same familiar walls and windows I’ve always seen.”

They may not have even considered a different perspective that included other people’s thoughts, feelings, or preferences. Yet, just considering how their words might painfully impact another person may be an eye-opening experience for them. They have likely had their share of hurtful comments from others, so they can definitely relate.


1. Non-Stop Talking

Adults with hyperactive ADHD are more prone to talking non-stop than others. They often feel the need to voice every thought and explain every action, to try and make sure they are understood. This makes it difficult for others to get involved. A meaningful conversation is often next to impossible, making it very hard on relationships.

First, politely challenge the ADHD adult to take several deep breaths and slow down the rush of non-stop words and give others a chance to talk. 

Also, encourage them to control the impulse to interrupt. When or if they interrupt, politely ask them if they can hold their thought and/or write it down for later. 

Your polite tone allows them to receive and process what you say without getting offended or defensive.

During practice, take turns asking for and giving feedback.  Many ADHD adults start a conversation in the middle of their idea and it’s difficult to understand. Ask them to clarify. When the ADHD adult feels understood the rush of words slows down. 

Also, the ADHD adult may not understand what you are saying. Encourage them to ask questions and give feedback instead of assuming they know.

Some ADHD adults have developed the habit of hearing what was said, but they do not respond with any feedback. You, the non-ADHD adult don’t know if you were heard, if they are paying attention or if they don’t agree. You have no idea where they are. Ask them what they think about that.

Remind them that good listening shows others that they are important and respected. It also encourages others to do likewise. Statistics show that good listening improves relationships.

2. Tuning Out

Just as talking too many causes a problem, not saying a word is also a challenge. The silence implies that they aren’t present or listening, don’t understand, or don’t care. In reality, though, they have problems staying focused on what is being said.

With the inattentive ADHD adult, suggest they use nonverbal cues, such as nodding or smiling, to show they are listening. They can also use words or sounds, like “uh-huh,” “okay,” or “go on,” to show they are paying attention. Encourage them to look for opportunities to politely comment or ask a question to understand. These actions help them stay tuned because their mind is busy listening.

3. Talk About Me

conversations are a dialogue, not a monologue. Some ADHD adults don’t talk much, but they aren’t the silent type, either. When they do talk it’s “all about me,” my life, my work, or my relationship. They are often big advice givers. They seem to have all knowledge about every subject. 

Some are “right fighters.” If you disagree with them verbally, the war is on. With others, if you don’t agree they resort to silence and the conversation is over.

These ADHD adults have very interesting characteristics. They rarely ask another person how they are or comment on something the other person says. It’s all about them.

If the ADHD adult’s words always revolve around their work, their life, and their relationships, they are probably talking too much and not listening at all. 

Encourage the ADHD adult to view their conversations as a seesaw where they take turns talking and listening.

Ask about the other person. A non-ADHD adult can suggest a way to include others in the conversation. Perhaps, before launching into information about themselves, ask about the other person. It is polite to say, “How are you doing?” when starting a conversation.

Encourage them to listen to their own words. Have them be aware of constantly saying I, me, and my, instead us, you, and yours. Suggest they use sentences like, “Enough about me. Tell me what you’ve been up to lately.”

Ask Questions. Challenge the ADHD adult to come up with a list of questions that would apply to most situations. For example, “What did you do today?” “How is your family doing?” “Did you have a good weekend?”  “How’s the job going?” If the ADHD adult is prepared and has practiced they will feel more at ease in other conversations.

How to help ADHD adult improve listening skills – Key Takeaways

Using active listening can benefit all of us in many ways. Those with ADHD may benefit in more ways because listening will help their personal and professional relationships. 

As they learn and practice active listening they will have fewer conversations that go sideways. They can improve their capacity to participate in give-and-take conversations by:

  • Slowing down the flow of words
  • Taking time to process thoughts
  • Taking turns giving feedback
  • Asking questions to understand
  • Focusing on what is being said
  • Responding with non-verbal and verbal cues
  • Writing thoughts down if necessary

What experiences have you had in communicating with ADHD Adults?

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