How to Be A Better Listener for Adults with ADHD

“Hey, did you hear me?”

“So what do you think we should do?”

“Having said all that, what’s your perspective?”

Let’s face it; hearing questions like this after you’ve lost focus on a conversation is both cringeworthy and familiar for the ADHD brain. 

two women having a conversation

The ability to focus on and follow conversations is a very real challenge.

Our active mind races in a million different directions, and while we genuinely want to stay present, it’s often challenging to maintain our focus for extended periods of time.

Fortunately, there are supports we can put in place to help strengthen our listening skills, especially for adults with ADHD.

Whether you’re attending a conference presentation or listening to your child share about recess, you can lean in and actively engage in the experience.

If you’re ready to learn how be sure to tune into episode 160 of the I’m Busy Being Awesome podcast.

You can listen to the episode above or stream it on your favorite podcasting app here:   

Prefer to read? No problem! Keep scrolling for the entire podcast transcript.

In Episode 160: How To Be A Better Listener For Adults With ADHD, You Will Discover… 

  • The problems our ADHD brains have with listening
  • How to be a better listener with ADHD
  • Action steps to put these tools into practice today

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Episode #160: How to Be a Better Listener for Adults with ADHD (Transcript)

How to be a better listener when you have ADHD

Today we’re talking about focus and listening. More specifically, how to be a better listener as an adult with ADHD. This is important to help ensure we’re present in our conversations and interactions whether at home, at work, or when we’re out and about.

Whenever I have consultations with potential clients, one of the things we spend time talking about is focus and attention, and something that comes up often is our ability to stick with and follow conversations. Because this can be hard.

This level of focus is quite demanding for many of us – especially with an ADHD brain. So I thought I’d dedicate this episode to sharing some of my favorite ways to improve listening skills that work for myself and my clients.

Let’s face it. It’s never fun when you’re in the middle of a conversation with a friend or a coworker or a family member, and suddenly your mind wanders to a completely different topic.

You’re thinking about your latest hyperfocus or needing to mow the lawn or that weird look your colleague gave you after yesterday’s meeting, and the person talking says something like, “what do you think?” Or worse “did you hear me?” 

Ugh. 

While this happens to all of us every once in a while, it can be a pretty frequent occurrence for many ADHD brains. I’ve coached clients on how it often sparks arguments in relationships, or maybe they miss important details in a meeting.

Wherever you land within the spectrum of focused listening, whether you’re often lost in your mind or easily distracted and it’s a daily struggle to focus on conversations. Or you’d simply like to improve your listening skills so you feel even more present in a conversation, this episode has something for you.

By learning how to actively listen – enhance your listening even further – you’re not only going to experience a deeper understanding of the conversation itself, but you’re also creating a greater opportunity for connection and understanding with the other person or people. 

Rather than distracting your brain by trying to figure out what you should say in response or what you’d rather be doing or should be doing instead of having the conversation. 

You can instead increase the frequency of staying present and taking in and processing what the other person is saying.

You will have a better understanding of them and their perspective and you’ll have even more depth to pull from when it’s your turn to contribute to the conversation.

So, as we begin, let’s start by understanding…

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Why Listening is More of a Problem for Adults with ADHD

As I mentioned, we all struggle with listening at times. This is part of being human. But the ADHD brain tends to have even more obstacles in the way. 

Listening demands a lot from the brain.

When you’re in a conversation, your brain is constantly receiving information about what’s being said, and then it has to interpret it, and then it has to remember it.

When an ADHD brain is also busy thinking a million other things because it struggles to filter out both the internal and external distractions, things get a bit more challenging. 

rather than staying focused, we might:

  • Block out noises as our attention shifts to something else;
  • Concentrate on our own thoughts instead of the presenter’s words;
  • Shift our attention to how we’re feeling and get swept away by emotions of stress, sadness, frustration, or regret;
  • Quickly lose interest in things, including the topic of conversation or what the presenter is sharing;
  • Or, we might get overly conscious of our own words and worry about how we should respond, which pulls our attention away from what the other person is saying. 

Sound familiar? First of all, you’re definitely not alone. Second of all, we have lots of different approaches to help us strengthen our ability to stay present and listen. Today I’m going to share six ways to support your listening skills. 

7 Ways To Listen Better with ADHD: Strategies That Help

woman listening

Before we talk about listening skills tips, I want to first say that they’re not one size fits all.

If a few don’t resonate with you, no sweat. As I say over and over on this podcast, all brains are different, which is exactly why I’m sharing several different approaches so you can find the ones that work best for you.

1. Don’t Multitask

You’re probably going to roll your eyes at me when I suggest tip number one but stick with me because it bears repeating. And it bears repeating because we still do it all the time. And this tip is to stop multitasking when someone’s talking to you.

Now here’s the deal; I know how tempting it can be to keep doing what you’re doing. As I mentioned in episode 158 about task switching, if someone pops their head in your office and you’re in the middle of something, it can be super challenging to stop what you’re doing and switch focus. 

And as a sidebar – just because someone does pop in your office doesn’t mean you need to stop. It is absolutely okay to ask them – hey, I’m just finishing something up; can I swing by your office in 10 minutes? This is not a problem, and in fact, it’s a great way to support your brain if you do struggle with transitions.

But if you are going to have the conversation, challenge yourself not to multitask.

Turn off your phone so you’re not tempted to quickly check a text on your phone.

Minimize the window on your computer when a coworker comes over to talk to you.

Again, if you’re focused on an important project that and you know it will pull you out of flow, ask the person for a few minutes so you can fully focus. This is not a problem. It’s not rude. In fact, I think it’s just the opposite, when someone says that to me, it shows me that they want to give me their full attention.

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2. Use a Fidget

Now I have one caveat that I want to add in regard to multitasking, and this has to do with fidgets. Because I actually highly encourage you to use fidgets if they’re helpful for you. And here’s why. 

Using your hands to play with a fidget toy, squish a stress ball, hold a worry stone, maybe you can crochet or knit without having to think about it; these types of low-attention tasks won’t disrupt your ability to listen.

This is because fidgeting is an automated task, which doesn’t require significant concentration and won’t disrupt your focus. Plus, it can help you with releasing any restless energy you may have. 

Check out my favorite fidgets if you think they’ll help you:

3. Repeat What They Said (Out Loud & In Your Head)

The next tip is one that really helps to ensure you’re maintaining focused attention, and this is to repeat what the other person is saying both in your own head and out loud.

Let’s be real though, it’d be weird if we were talking and I literally repeated every word back to you! It’s not the shadow game…

However, by echoing what they’re saying in your mind, you help ensure you’re focused on what they’re saying.

When To Use This Listening Technique

You can use this listening tip in a 1:1 conversation or if you’re listening to a presentation.

Then throughout a conversation, you also can find times to paraphrase certain things back to the other person, though this step doesn’t work so well in a presentation-type situation unless you’re asking a question later on. 

The benefits of Repeating What You Hear

This practice helps you…

  • Stay focused on the conversation
  • Indicate to the other person that you’re listening
  • Clear up misunderstandings or missed information

For example, if I’m going on a trip and flying to meet some friends, I might want to confirm that I heard to meet them at gate E where they’ll pick me up at 12:30. Because that’s information I’d prefer not to miss.

4. Focus on Their Words, Not Yours

Building on this idea, focus on what they’re saying, not how you should respond.

It’s so easy to get stuck in our head thinking about what we want to say, especially because it’s very possible we’ll forget what we wanted to say when it’s finally time to speak. 

I mean, was anyone else the kid in class to who would raise their hand and then when the teacher finally called on you have to put your hand down and sheepishly say, I forgot. The worst!

We often get so anxious worrying that we’ll forget what we want to say that we focus solely on that thing until the person stops talking.

We may also be so worried about saying the “wrong thing” or the “stupid thing” and we’re constantly scanning for the “right thing” to say. And because we’re so distracted by this worry, we can’t stay present with the story. 

So what can we do?

Thinking You Need To Respond In The Right Way

Let’s start with the last fear I mentioned, which is thinking you need to respond in the right way or worrying you’ll say the wrong thing.

I recommend getting very curious about these concerns.

These thoughts may be trying to protect you, but what if they’re unnecessary? In fact, let’s flip the belief on its head. 

Right now, our brain thinks we need to think of the right thing to say, so it stays totally focused on that and misses the conversation, right? Not surprisingly, this makes it pretty hard to contribute when we don’t know what’s really being said. 

On the flip side, if we stay engaged in the conversation using the strategies in this episode, and you’re following the ideas from the other person, it’s so much more likely that you’ll be able to contribute when they pause and it’s your turn to talk, right?

Worried About Forgetting What You Want To Say

If you’re more worried about forgetting what you want to say, I highly recommend writing down a word or two to jog your memory and remind yourself of that idea.

I even do this when I’m out walking with Ryan.

If he’s telling me something that happened in his business, and I have an idea or suggestion when he’s in the middle of the story, I’ll write one or two words in my phone to remind me. I’ll say to him I’m just writing down a reminder of something I want to share when you’re done so I don’t forget. Keep going.

Now you may not want to pull out your phone in all situations, but I think people are very willing to give one another grace if you jot down a word or two on a post-it and say, “I’m writing myself a note so I don’t forget to say a thought I had later.”

This shows the person that you respect what they have to say and you want to stay fully engaged and listen. 

5. Take Notes or Record

taking notes

You probably don’t need to record your conversations with your friends, but it can be particularly useful for business meetings, presentations, classes, and seminars.

I record all of my group coaching sessions in We’re Busy Being Awesome so everyone can go back and re-watch the coaching.

Some of my 1:1 clients also like to record their calls so they can refer back to what we talked about.

There is a lot of benefit in this and for many people, it gets even stronger when you’re taking notes, too.

Personally, when I would go to musicology conferences in the past it was very challenging for me to stay focused on the different papers the speakers would present. So taking notes and creating an outline of the main points helped me process the content and make sense of their main arguments. This can also help in the case you’ve forgotten instructions from a business meeting, as you’ll always have the notes to fall back on.

The same goes for recording calls – especially since so many meetings are now held on Zoom. You could also record with your phone, but of course, make sure that you’ve gotten permission from everyone to record the conversation before actually doing so. 

6. Remind Yourself You Don’t Have To Fix It 

One thing that used to trip me up was believing I needed to fix every problem someone presented to me.

The moment a friend would come to talk about a problem – whether it was something in their class, an issue with their car, or an interaction with their partner, my brain wanted to go into problem-solving mode, and I’d be focused on finding all the potential solutions.

Meanwhile, I wasn’t fully present and listening to the conversation, which – most often – was the thing the person needed the most.

They needed someone to hear them and see them and validate what they were going through. Most of the time they already knew what they should do. Frankly, they just needed to vent and talk things through. 

I can remember in college an experience where I was on the other side of this. I just wanted to vent and all I got were solutions to the problem and it really hit me. Oh – this does not feel good. I know they’re trying to be helpful…but it’s really not helpful.

Since that time I’ve really tried to step out of problem-solving mode until I know, that’s what they’re looking for, which I could never find out before because I wasn’t listening to find out.

Now I’ll often flat out ask the person – are you looking for suggestions or solutions or do you just want to talk through things and get it out?

Where are you at right now?

9 times out of 10 it’s the latter. This reminder to stay present and that I don’t need to fix anything can really help me stay focused and listen.


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7. Understand Your thoughts and feelings going into the conversation

Last but certainly not least – in fact, I’d suggest it’s the most important – is to check in on the thoughts and feelings you want driving your experience.

If we think about the Think-Feel-Act cycle, our thoughts generate our feelings, and our feelings drive our actions. 

Think-Feel-Act Cycle Example

Think: If I’m in a meeting at work, and I’m thinking, “I’m so unprepared and have nothing to contribute.”

Feel: I feel anxious.

Act: When I feel anxious, I spin in my thoughts. I distract myself by trying to think of something beneficial to share. I beat myself up for not being more prepared. I’m only half listening to the person talking. I’m not paying attention to the slide deck or taking notes.

I’m totally stuck in my head. And I promise you, this is not going to help me think of something beneficial to contribute. 

However, if I’m in that same meeting…and I go in thinking to myself, “I wonder what I’ll learn today.” or “I can’t wait to hear about Desiree’s ideas for next quarter.” I feel a sense of curiosity or interest.

When I’m feeling curious or interested, I lean in. I take notes. I look for things to learn or focus on the ideas for the next quarter. And when Desiree finishes talking, I’ll have given myself the space to listen and process, and have material to respond to.

Another Example

If I’m talking with a friend who is upset about what her sister-in-law said. And I’m thinking to myself, “I need to make her feel better” and I’m feeling a sense of urgency. I’m probably trying to offer solutions or make her laugh or do anything else I can think of to make her feel better. But I’m also not listening or being present and the chances of being able to help in situations like this are – again – quite low. Because I’m not listening.

However, if I am talking with that same friend and thinking to myself, “I’m here for her.” or “I’m her someone to talk to.” then I feel grounded and compassionate and love.

When I’m feeling those emotions I listen carefully. I repeat back phrases to validate her experience. If she wants suggestions or a solution, I’ll know because I heard her ask for it, rather than just assuming. And ultimately I am there for her as I listen to her experience. 

What you’re thinking and feeling in your conversations matters.

When you can check in with yourself and find those thoughts that help you get to a feeling of presence or groundedness in the moment, it makes such a powerful difference in helping you put these other strategies into practice.

It helps you tune in and focus on the conversation, and it also helps you bring yourself back if and when your brain inevitably wanders, so you can contribute in a way that feels good for you. 

How To Be a Better Listener When You Have ADHD: Recap

This week, if you’re interested in enhancing your listening skills a bit, I encourage you to give just one of these practices a try.

  • Pause the multitasking
  • Repeat what they say in your mind or out loud
  • Focus on what they’re saying rather than how you’ll respond
  • Remind yourself that you don’t need to solve anything – you’re here to listen, take notes if it’s helpful, and interrupt only when you like your reasons to do so
  • Check-in on your thoughts and feelings about the conversation.

If you put just one of these strategies to use this week, I have a feeling you’ll notice a powerful shift in your conversation. And I’d love to hear about it. Let me know over on Instagram. You can tag me or send me a dm, I’m @imbusbeingawesome.

Alright, my friends, that’s going to do it for us this week. If you’re ready to take the concepts you’ve learned on the podcast and apply them to your life, as well as support your ADHD in a way that works for YOU within a small, supportive community, check out my group coaching program, We’re Busy Being Awesome.


Want To Join Our Group Coaching Program?!

I will be opening the doors for the next cohort of We’re Busy Being Awesome in a couple of weeks!

Add your name to the waitlist so you’ll be the first to know about program dates and times, plus how you can sign up if it’s a great fit for you.


Also, have you grabbed the podcast roadmap yet? It has the most popular IBBA podcast episodes all detailed for you so you can get yourself up to speed and ready to work with your ADHD brain, you can grab it now!

Until next time, keep being awesome. I’ll talk with you soon.

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