Listening well is the most important part of communication. Many misunderstandings and hurt feelings can be prevented by using good listening skills. If you begin to track disagreements or miscommunications in your life, you will probably find that poor listening skills (yours or the other person’s) are at the root of the problem most of the time.

Listening can be especially difficult for people with ADHD. Our attention is often elsewhere while people are talking to us. We also tend to interrupt people before they finish what they have to say, and jump in with comments ahead of others who are waiting for their turn to speak.

It is important to realize when this happens. Part of developing and using good psychosocial skills includes being aware of how we interact with people, how we are perceived and received by other people. Based on my personal experience, I think other people know when we zone out or stop listening. Often they don’t realize that we have ADHD; they may think we are simply being rude or behaving inappropriately.

When this happens, and it will, follow these guidelines or something similar. The idea is to increase our awareness of how often this happens, take responsibility for ourselves, acknowledge our behavior and politely make amends. It may seem we are only calling attention to our foibles, but if they notice it anyway and we don’t own it, the outcome may be worse.

• Acknowledge and name the specific thing that happened (my mind drifted off, I lost my train of thought, I interrupted you before you finished talking, etc.) rather than just calling it ADHD.
• Politely ask the person to repeat the part you missed or prompt the other person to finish their thoughts or comments if you interrupt someone.
• Apologize for (whatever you named in point 1), either after they finish their comment, or when you ask them to repeat what you missed.

Think of how you would respond if you ran your shopping cart into someone at the grocery store. Running people over verbally is similar. When we stop listening or lose interest while someone is talking to us, it is akin to taking a little nap – just 10, 20, 30 seconds – perhaps while chatting with the cashier in the checkout line. What must they be thinking while we drift away? The people in line behind us will certainly not be happy. This is really not cool.

Understanding how others feel when we have an ‘ADHD moment’ is not to shame anyone – it is part of living with the condition. The purpose of this newfound awareness is to be conscious of how often we interrupt or space out and to understand what it must be like from the perspective of others. I find it helps me tune in more – be more mindful – of the impact of my behavior on relationships and situations, especially at work.

Non-verbal Communication

We all express ourselves with body language and other non-verbal communication. Effectively communicating involves being aware of our non-verbal communication, and that of others. Some people with ADHD do not attend to these social cues and nuances. This can cause problems in social groups and on the job.

Understanding a look, pause or slight shift in posture often explains much more than words spoken. When a person’s verbal and non-verbal language is incongruent, the non-verbal message is usually closer to the truth. So, recognizing our emotions is a critical step in communicating congruently and honestly. Many people are disconnected from their emotions. Not to worry - our emotions are generally on display for everyone to see, particularly facial expressions.

It can be difficult to understand the real messages we receive at times, as the words and ‘feel’ of the message may be different. If you haven’t watched a poker tournament on cable television, you may want to try it for an object lesson in non-verbal language. Some of them go to the extreme to hide their facial expressions, wearing sunglasses and hats to keep non-verbals to a minimum.

Non-verbal Language

• Eye Contact – Maintaining eye contact when you are talking to someone is a way of conveying that you are listening; it says I respect you enough to pay attention to what you want to convey to me.

Body Language – Your facial expressions and posture should be aligned with verbal content. Keep your expression neutral to portray your openness, rather than expressing a reaction to what you are hearing.

• Prompting – Nodding and verbal prompts (“uh-huh”) let the speaker know you are following the dialogue and interested. This keeps the flow of the conversation moving.


The key to listening well is checking in with the speaker to ensure you are hearing what she/he is actually saying. We do this by restating their message in our own words. By doing this, you let the speaker know you are paying attention and give them an opportunity to clarify any misunderstandings. The following prompts are good for restating what you hear.

“So, from your point of view…”

“It sounds like you …”

“So, you mean …”

“Let me see if I’ve got this right. You feel …”

“So, you’re saying…”


Respond to the scenarios below and restate the main points. You may want to write the points to be restated below, and then practice saying them using one of the prompts above. These can be done with or without a partner.

Using effective listening skills, address the following with a restatement:
“I just started a new job. I have so many things to learn - my stress level is through the roof! I’m not sure I’m going to be good at this job. I have a co-worker that drives me crazy and I think my boss is a micro-manager.

Use effective listening techniques to re-state the following:
“I’m going to school in the fall; I plan to take psychology classes. I hated high school, so I’m not sure how well this is going to work. I’m going to try it anyway.

How would you re-state the following?
You’re a supervisor on the job. You have a new employee who has come to you to discuss her concerns about a new team assignment. You listen as she states her case, and then use active listening skills to re-state what she told you.

“I want to talk to you about the new assignment that you gave us. I’m working with the team in programs and services. I’m concerned that we may not have what we need to get the job done; I’m also afraid that we may not be able to complete the job by the deadline. Do you have any ideas about how I can talk to the team members about my concerns?”

Author's Bio: 

LuAnn Pierce is a licensed clinical social worker and person with ADHD who lives in Denver, CO. She recently launched a blogsite for and about adults with ADHD and related mental health issues. The blogsite focuses on traditional and non-traditional treatment for ADHD, with an emphasis on psychosocial wellness. LuAnn is a therapist and coach. She recently published two new ebooks: Facing the Giant: ADHD in the Workplace (free to download) and In Search of Your Best (ADHD) Self: Psychosocial Skill Development – check the blogsite for a free sample. You can reach LuAnn at: @adultadhdhelper