Listen Up! Listening When You Have ADHD

Why Active Listening?

Listening is a core competency of coach training programs and coaching organizations, so, you would expect me to find it valuable.  Active listening provides many benefits beyond coaching in our relationships and in daily conversations.  ADHD can make active listening more difficult for individuals which is why, as an ADHD Coach, I often work with my clients to improve their listening skills.  By actively listening, you will better understand what is being discussed and be better equipped to provide valuable input at the appropriate time.  Sometimes when someone else is speaking, you might spend time figuring out what you will say next and that can interfere with your understanding of the situation.  Or you might simply struggle to pay attention to what is being said.  You will gain more insight into discussions and have more meaningful input if you actively listen while the other person is speaking.

If you have ADHD, listening can be a challenge since ADHD can naturally interfere with your listening skills.  Impulsiveness may drive you to unintentionally interrupt someone while speaking.  Inattentiveness might cause your mind to wander during conversations, meetings or presentations.  Both of these situations can be frustrating for you if they apply.  You may personally have other listening challenges that come into play.  There are steps you can take, however, to  improve your listening skills.  Review the ideas below and give one of them a try to help improve your listening skills.

Practice Listening

Talk to a friend or co-worker whom you know and trust.  Perhaps they have concerns about listening as well.  Take turns telling each other something about a recent event that happened in the past week.  Make it brief, but long enough to stretch your listening skills.  Two to four minutes is a good time length to start.  When your friend is done talking, reflect the story back to him or her and ask for feedback.  Discuss with your friend 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 of your listening skills to see if you notice any improvements.

Try Fidgeting

If your ADHD is largely inattentive you might drift off and lose focus while struggling to listen while someone is talking during a conversation or meeting.  Another activity to try is to fidget.  One of my coaching colleagues, Sarah Wright and her co-author, Roland Rotz, wrote a book called Fidget to Focus.  Outwit Your Boredom: Sensory Strategies for Living With ADD (2005).  Their website is and explains that fidgeting means “any simultaneous sensory-motor stimulation strategy”.  The authors encourage using the active of fidgeting to keep your brain activated which will help you pay attention to what you need to pay attention to.  Examples of fidgeting include squeezing a stress ball, chewing gum, playing with pipe cleaners and even listening to music.  My favorite fidget is to tear paper into small pieces and roll them up – sounds strange to many people, but it kept me focused during many long corporate meetings!  For more ideas, I encourage you to check out the Fidget to Focus website or book.

Notice When You Listen (or don’t)

Sometimes the first step to improving your listening skills 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?

Other Ideas?

I am sure many of you have additional ideas that have worked for you.  Please share them with us by leaving a comment.  Let us know how you are doing in improving your listening skills.  I look forward to hearing your feedback!

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5 thoughts on “Listen Up! Listening When You Have ADHD

  1. Hi Laurie- just a quick note. I encourage children to grab a pencil or pen to encourage active listening. Also, I encourage them to ask questions when they sense they are wandering. These strategies are also helpful when the listener is bored, also. Hope you are doing well. Anne

  2. Great article, Laura! I would like to bring up one point: As someone with ADHD speaking with or before someone else with ADHD who employs the fidgeting techniques of paper tearing, foot jiggling, gum chewing, pipe cleaner twisting, or rubber ball squeezing (probably the least obtrusive) could potentially distract ME to the point where I would completely lose my train of thought! I find that the proverbial fly on the wall can command as much attention as someone making an important point. As a teacher or speaker, can you imagine the exponential impact of 5-10 students or audience members employing these various techniques simultaneously? Argh-h-h-h-h-h-h-h!

  3. I find that my greatest difficulties in listening are that my mind is so rapidly actively working on what I am going to say in response to help them and the fear that I’ll forget what i’m going to say–that i interrupt and blurt it out. I find it helpful to take notes both on what they’re saying and on what I am thinking. I was also taught recently to acknowledge every few sentences someone says, e.g. “um humm”, ” I see, ” “So true”, focusing on doing that keeps me focused on the content better

  4. I couldn’t believe that when I typed in google, listening without talking, your post was the first that came up and I have ADHD to boot. I have a hard time keeping quiet when someone is talking. I have this new job that I want to do soo well in that I have been told that I acknowledge with an ok every time the boss talks at his meetings. He wants me to listen and let him talk and if after he is completely done, to ask questions. But I didn’t mention this to them, I don’t want them to think I’m not listening by saying nothing, but I know he is the type of person that would rather do the talking, get what he has to say out and takes questions later. It’s like being up on a podium. I have a hard time with that at work and in personal life. I also have made some mistakes and it’s due to rushing through and not making the time to do it right the first time. I know this about me, but now that I have a new job, I feel I failed myself. They know I have alot on my plate and know there is a lot to learn and hoping this will all pass me sooner than later and I get to stay. I haven’t worked in 10 years due to being a SAHM and having this position is like a godsend. I know I have these ADHD flaws and is on two meds for it and I do talk to a lifecoach and see a psychologist every week. I have come a long way. Alot has to do with my childhood and allowing myself to take it it all in without communicating to my family and my spouse. I am reading books on confidence, focusing, and your articles. Especially the one on self esteem and intimacy. An area I struggle in tremendously. I want to exude my confidence level and I am trying everything the best I can. I know every day is a new day. Reading positive helpful information helps.

  5. So glad the article was useful Patty. Let me know if you have any questions!