Is listening a lost art? Where is it taught or modeled? How can folks with ADHD who have thoughts constantly racing through our heads learn to really listen? Why should we learn to listen? What about questions? How can we learn to ask questions that give other people the safety and freedom to respond to us openly and honestly?
This week I have read an inspiring little book entitled Humble Inquiry: The Gentle Art of Asking Instead of Telling by Edgar Schein. I strongly recommend this book. It contains wisdom that applies in every context in which two or more human beings are interacting. Though the book focuses primarily on relationships within organizations and hierarchies, the concepts are also applicable on a purely interpersonal level.
“Humble Inquiry” is defined by Schein as “the fine art of drawing someone out, of asking questions to which you do not already know the answer, of building a relationship based on curiosity and interest in the other person.” Once we ask such a humble question, we need to be able to hear the response.
There are many forces at work in any situation that can make asking a truly humble question and fully hearing the answer challenging, if not impossible. What Schein’s book triggered in me was a process of thinking about how much of the time we are locked into our own minds, whether we’re asking questions or trying to hear the answers. We ask questions that are really statements; we drown out the answers with our own internal voices as we ponder what to say next. How often do we ask humbly curious questions and then truly hear the answers?
For folks with ADHD who at times face challenges in social relationships, learning to ask sincere questions and then to be able to listen to the answers can be a key to strengthening relationships and to more rewarding interactions even with strangers.
I love a story Thom Hartmann shared in his book ADD Success Stories: A Guide to Fulfillment for Families with Attention Deficit Disorder. A man was invited to his boss’s home for an important dinner party, but just prior to his leaving for the party, the cap fell off of one of the employee’s front teeth. He hurriedly stuck it back on with glue. During the dinner he was quite concerned that it would fall off again, so he ate very carefully and spoke very little. He sat near his boss’s wife and decided to listen to her stories about subjects that didn’t usually interest him.
The next day his boss called the man into his office to thank him for joining them for dinner. His boss went on to say that his wife couldn’t stop talking about the employee’s being a brilliant conversationalist! The employee was stunned because he had said very few words and they were nearly all questions designed to keep his boss’s wife talking so he wouldn’t have to.
He decided to apply what he had learned about the power of listening to his work in sales, and he discovered that everyone he met truly appreciated being heard. And, he was quite amazed at what he learned from listening to them!
ADHDers are so often busy telling, because so much is passing through their minds. All of that telling can cause ill feeling in social situations, because it gives the impression to others that the ADHDer is not interested in anything but him/herself. Remember the salesman at the dinner party, and become a “great conversationalist” by listening and asking sincere, humble questions. Let me know what happens!