Use adult ADD/ADHD verbal skills to your advantage on the job.
by Michael Laskoff
As an adult with, until recently, undiagnosed -- and untreated -- attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADD/ADHD), predictably, my big mouth got me into a lot of trouble earlier in my career. I spoke too much, too often, and sometimes unconstructively. This was a problem for which there was a simple solution. Somebody senior would simply "suggest" that I stop speaking. This was often bruising to my ego, but it worked.
Today, I have the big chair, albeit at a small company (AbilTo). In theory, I can speak whenever and however long I’d like. In reality, I try very hard not to indulge in this freedom. A manager who spends too much time talking doesn’t listen and doesn’t learn. Moreover, he or she is sending a message that the opinions and insights of others are irrelevant. That’s very discouraging and bad for business.
Controlling my mouth is therefore a critical skill; it starts with self-awareness, but often that’s simply not enough for a manager with ADD/ADHD. Actual behavior change is required, which is why I’ve implemented a few simple rules for myself. These are not universal guidelines, but hopefully they will get you thinking about what you can do to communicate effectively on the job.
Rule #1: Tell People You Like to Talk
At AbilTo, I interview a lot of therapists. They are trained to listen; I like to talk. It’s all too easy to spout monologues instead of creating and sustaining dialogues. To prevent the wrong outcome, I often tell people when we first meet them that I have a tendency to be long-winded. Then I encourage them to interrupt me with questions, particularly if I have wandered off on a tangent. Stated simply, I admit that I have a problem and ask for assistance dealing with it. So long as this is done with some charm and humor, it tends to work out well.
Rule #2: Create an Entertaining Environment
Some organizations -- the military, for example -- rely on strict hierarchy. In such a setting, as someone at the top, I’d have free reign to talk forever. Information would certainly travel down, but nothing of value would move back up. To prevent that, I try to keep things informal: People are encouraged to speak, joke, conjecture, and engage in some verbal horseplay. That keeps meetings and conversations engaging and entertaining, which diminishes my compulsion to take over. As a result, it’s much easier for me to listen rather than speak. Others are able get a word in edgewise, and everyone benefits.
Rule #3: Clock It
Once a week, we have the dreaded staff meeting. We call ours the 60 MOB, which stands for 60 minutes of bliss. As the name implies, the meeting has a hard stop at the end of an hour. That’s not necessarily much time to cover everything, so a good deal of focus is required. Thus, we plan the meeting in advance, circulate an agenda, and ask people to come prepared. Invariably, I hijack bits and pieces of the meeting, but I also watch the clock and try to stay on topic. As a result, our staff meetings are quite a bit less dreadful than they are elsewhere.
I still talk too much. I do, after all, have ADD/ADHD, and I still do a lot of my thinking out loud through dialog. But these simple rules help me to tone it down enough so that other voices can be heard. That makes me a better manager and AbilTo a better place to work.