How hard can it be to listen? Quite difficult, in fact. Listening is not the same as hearing, nor is it as natural as many people might think.  There are many pitfalls we may fall into while listening to others, and much of the time we are not even aware, unlike the person we are talking to, that we are in fact not listening at all.

This happens to everyone, not just individuals with ADHD, so its important to be aware of our listening skills if we are to make the ones around us feel more valued and appreciated. Fortunately, listening is a skill, which means that it’s something you can work on and practice.

Here are some tips for becoming a better listener:

Ask open-ended questions. Instead of asking, “So, did you do what I told you?” you might say: “Tell me what you decided to do.” Instead of, “Are you mad?” you might ask: “How does this make you feel?” Open-ended questions aren’t nearly as loaded with preconceptions as close-ended questions and are thus disarming. They are also more likely to encourage successful dialogue.

Paraphrase. Good listeners often restate what they are hearing. While this may be unnecessary to do at all times, it does verify that you are in fact listening. That message alone lets others feel much better about their interactions with us.

Be mindful of non-verbal cues. We do not just listen with our ears. We also listen with our eyes, too. Arms crossed send a defensive signal. On the other hand, eye contact and leaning forward signals we are all ears and listening attentively.

Clear your mind. Going into a conversation with negative energy is not likely to result in productive listening. Acknowledge how you feel prior to going into a potentially contentious conversation; however, do your best to keep an open mind. The truth is, you never know how a conversation will unfold. Tip the odds in your favor by clearing your mind and listening to the other side.

Some common pitfalls in listening include:

12389882_mlDistractions. Think about the last time you spoke to someone while they were texting or playing a game. Did you feel like you were being heard, let alone listened to? Multitasking while having a conversation sends a clear message: I have other more important things to do than listening to what you are saying.

Topping the speaker’s story. Picture this: you had a wonderful trip to Costa Rica and are excitedly relaying some of the highlights to a friend. You describe the incredible view you experienced atop a mountain peak you hiked that is more often than not obscured due to rain and clouds. Your friend responds with a story of an amazing helicopter ride they experienced in Hawaii over a picture-perfect waterfall. The message this sends is “Your story is nice, but mine is clearly better.” This person is likely thinking about him\herself and not listening to your excitement of sharing a wonderful experience.

Problem finding. Sometimes we are sharing a moment or thought with another person but find that we are simply getting unsolicited advice in return for how to handle a situation. The message this person is sending is, “I’m listening, but only enough to fix this problem for you.”

Becoming defensive. Being the topic of conversation can lead us to feel under attack, even when we’re not. And so we may get defensive. Be mindful, when we are defending, we are most likely not listening.