How to become a better listener when you have ADHD: getting out of Squirrel mind during conversations in Business Relationships
In this episode of The Weeniecast, we're talking all about ADHD communication. Specifically, we're exploring how to go from being a 'squirrel' to a 'shark'.
In other words, how to become a better listener when you have ADHD.
As an ADHD entrepreneur, it can be challenging to keep ourselves from oversharing in conversations, especially with clients.
We often get so excited and end up going off on tangents or revealing too much.
But fear not, because I have some strategies to help you navigate this common challenge.
First, we'll discuss the three different levels of listening.
Most of us spend the majority of our time in the first method - the squirrel method, where we're constantly thinking about what we should say next instead of truly focusing on the other person.
To become a better listener, we need to tap into our other brain levels, where we listen more deeply and tune into what's not being said.
This ability to read the room and understand the emotions of others is vital in building connections and relationships.
So, get ready to exit squirrel brain and go into deeper waters... and become a better listener in your business.
Whether you have ADHD or not, these communication strategies can benefit anyone seeking to improve their listening skills and forge stronger connections in the business world.
I'm Katie McManus, your business strategist and money mindset coach. This is the latest episode of The Weeniecast, the podcast for ADHD entrepreneurs looking to level up their business strategies.
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The Three Levels of Listening
So one of the things I learned at 'coaching school' was one of the most valuable lessons I still use to this day.
There are three different categories of listening: the squirrel method, the cougar method, and the shark method.
Here's how to become a better listener when you have ADHD.
Most people with ADHD spend the majority of their time in the squirrel method, where they are easily distracted and focused on their own thoughts rather than fully listening to the other person.
This can lead to massive amounts of oversharing.
The cougar method involves deeply listening to what is being said and what is not being said.
This level of listening requires tuning into body language and nonverbal cues.
Then lastly, we've got the shark method.
And it's this level of listening that's especially useful in business situations and can make individuals appear more observant and trustworthy.
I'm hoping I can help you get started with practicing this after you've listened to this week's episode!
The key moments in this episode are:
00:35 Avoid oversharing: a common ADHD struggle.
05:15 Sitcom-based vulnerability-dumps.
09:31 Questions reveal hidden emotions, fears, and aspirations.
13:35 An anxious leader in a meeting creates suspicion.
15:27 Unconscious energy reading; key coaching skill.
20:40 Observing public spaces brings attention and safety.
21:36 Relatable stories for connecting with clients, book recommendation.
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In this episode, we're going to take you from a squirrel to a shark. Yeah. You're about to become a better listener. Hi, I'm Katie McManus, business strategist and money Mindset coach. And welcome to the Weeniecast. One of my absolute favorite things is when I log into my Instagram app or LinkedIn and I see messages from my listeners asking questions about how they can do something better in their business while they have ADHD. I've gotten several amazing questions over the last week, and I will be creating episodes on each and every one of them.
But the one that I want to focus on today is from a listener that we have in Hawaii, Bridget. And she asked, how do we keep ourselves from oversharing when we're talking to clients? And let me just say, this is a really normal thing for people with ADHD in any scenario. Doesn't matter if you're working with clients, if you're out socializing, if you're with friends and family, which I guess is the same thing as socializing, but it feels different because it's not strangers. We tend to get really excited about the conversation, and because our brains make really random connections, we end up bringing up stories that feel super besides the point, but also might be a little too vulnerable. And then what happens is minutes, hours, days later, we get that vulnerability hangover that Brene Brown loves to talk about and we start having this shame spiral around. Oh, my God. I can't believe I shared that. Was that inappropriate? Did it turn them off from me? Do they think I'm weird? They're not answering my emails.
Oh, my God. They're rejecting me. And it kicks us into rejection, sensitivity, dysphoria, and makes all those really self doubty voices pop up in our brains and make us feel like we are the worst person ever. We've all experienced this. If you've gone through this and you worry that you're the only one, let me tell you right now, you're not. This is a very common experience for people with ADHD. And where does it come from, this oversharing that we do whenever we're talking to people? It comes from our excitement for the conversation, okay? It comes from genuine excitement. It also comes from a genuine desire to connect with this person, especially when this person is approaching us to work with us in our business, which is typically designed around our hyper focus.
The other place this comes from is that we as humans are not taught how to listen. And I'm not just talking about people with ADHD I'm talking about everyone. I didn't learn how to listen until I went to coaching school when I was 29 years old. That was my first ever instruction on how to actually listen to other human beings. So in coaching school, they taught us this whole model. I've kind of adhdified it all for the purpose of this podcast because I find there's a different tilt for it for people with ADHD. So there are three different categories of listening, and I like to call them the squirrel method, the cougar method, and the shark method. So most of us spend the vast majority of our waking hours in the squirrel method of listening.
All right, so I want you to picture a squirrel in your mind. Like, how does it move? How is it focusing on stuff? It's usually really frantic and darting about, and it changes its course constantly. It's also very reactionary to its world. Like, if you take a step towards it, it's running away. If you take a step forward towards it and you have a sandwich in your hand, however it may move towards you, it's constantly thinking about what it should do in response to the world. How this shows up in conversation is when someone's talking to you, you're not actually fully listening to them. You're hearing the words that they're saying. But instead of focusing on the meaning of those words, you're in your own head thinking about what you should say next.
This is especially true in business situations, right? When you're talking to a potential client, you're really concerned with impressing this person, with showing this person that, hey, I'm smart and I'm capable, listen to all the cool things I'm going to share back with you, hear how connected I am, hear how relatable I am. And this is where that oversharing comes in. We hear something, maybe they're sharing about their childhood, and we're like, oh my God, I had a similar childhood, too. And then we dump a whole bunch of childhood trauma on them to try to relate, and later we massively regret it because we have that vulnerability hangover. There's nothing wrong with being in your squirrel mind. It's how most of us communicate, and also it doesn't allow for us to have any actual intimacy in our relationships. That squirrel mind is where we have all of our funny, charming conversations. It's where that back and forth banter happens.
It's basically what all sitcoms are based on, and it is where we learn a lot of data about other people, but it's usually where we do that vulnerability trauma dump in conversations, because we're so excited and we're reacting to this person, and we're desperately wanting to connect with them and show that we're relatable, but we can do it without really thinking about it. And when we're in our squirrel brains, we don't have a whole lot of impulse control. And I know you're probably thinking, well, that's a symptom of ADHD is lack of impulse control. Like, Katie, how are we supposed to just turn that off? Well, there are a couple of different ways, and it really does take practice, but I'm going to talk you through exactly how you access the other parts of your brain. So before I talk about the Cougar method of listening, I want to talk through how this actually impacted a whole group of 50 teenagers. So, years ago, before the pandemic hit, I was involved with this organization, and it was a nonprofit that trained teens on how to be stronger leaders. My contribution to this whole organization was teaching a leadership class for these sessions. And the leadership class that I wanted to teach was on listening.
When I introduced these different categories of listening to this claSs, I got a lot of resistance. You know how teenagers are like, they don't really want to go deeper. They don't want to show you that they're interested. They're just really, really walls up about stuff. I had them do an exercise where they were listening with their squirrel brains, and it was just normal conversation. It was normal teenage talk. They were just shooting the shit. I then trained them on the cougar method of listening and had them tune in to what was not being said by the other person.
Now, in this exercise, one person talks about something that really matters to them, something that they want or people that they love, or an experience that really lit them up. And the other person in this exercise cannot speak. They cannot respond to anything that's said. They're also not allowed to have any facial expression. It's really hard to manage. But this is one of the best exercises you can do to learn how to listen deeply. In this exercise, I asked them, the one person to speak, the one person to share that story, and the listener to listen deeply and to listen for things that weren't being said, and to tune into things like body language, like how someone's skin tone actually changes as they're talking about something they care about. Do their cheeks get flushed? Do they start fidgeting? All those different things that actually communicate a whole lot.
80% of communication is actually nonverbal. So they talked, and they listened. And after about two minutes of this, I had them switch their chairs so they couldn't see each other. And I asked the listener a whole bunch of questions, and I asked, what color eyes did the person have, what jewelry were they wearing, what kind of pants or skirt were they wearing? Describe it. And they would have to speak it out loud. And some of them were really attached to getting it right. And some of them were like, oh, my God. I wasn't paying attention.
I have no idea. So they're guessing, and you could hear them kind of say they were wearing jeans, like, hoping that theY'd get a quiet affirmative from the other person. After I'd asked a bunch of questions and I had them turn around back to each other, you could tell they were like, okay, I got this right, and I got this wrong. All right, good. So I had them reverse roles for the next one. So the person who had been listening was going to be sharing the story about talking about something that they cared about, and the person who was speaking previously was going to be listening. And it was really funny because you could tell they're scanning this other person, like, trying to memorize exactly what they're wearing, what kind of jewelry they had. They're really looking at the color of the person's eyes and the hair, and, like, do they have anything in their hair? All this stuff? And then again, turn around.
And I asked a different set of questions. What was the emotion that they were speaking in? What matters to them more than anything they actually described? What is this person afraid of? What are they hoping to achieve in their future? And what's absolutely insane about this exercise is that second time when I'm asking these questions, more of the students got the answers right. I was asking them about stuff that the speaker in this exercise had never actually shared. It was all in the energy that was emitting from them. It was in their body language, it was in the tone of their voice as they spoke about this thing that mattered to them. We read so much more. When we're tuning into someone as a whole person, we can pick up on incredible things. And what was incredible about this, after I went through all the different exercises and we debriefed this together as a group, is these teenagers started tearing up in a group of 50 people, saying that they had never been listened to on that level before.
There was one particular teenage boy who had a really gruff demeanor. He did not want to be there. He was really grumpy. He didn't like this personal development stuff. You could tell someone kind of bullied him into coming to this thing, and he had tears in his eyes as he talked about getting to know his friend far better than he'd ever known this person in his life. That two minute conversation told him more about his friend that he'd known for five years. So the reason I wanted to talk about this before we kind of go into the other two levels of listening is that I know when you're in your squirrel brain, you have that frenetic energy wanting to connect with this person and wanting to show how relatable you are. You don't actually have to share anything back with them to show that you're connected.
Yes, sharing an anecdote, telling a story, absolutely builds that connection. It allows for them to tell a story about you. But when you listen deeply, they're going to sense that they're connected to you. They're going to feel listened to. And as a business owner, you're going to pick up on stuff that they're not even saying verbally that they want from you, that they want from their work with you, and they're going to be astounded that you understood them on that level. The next category of listening is Cougar know, and I want you to think about a cougar. So in North America, if you go hiking in any area where they have cougars, the signs are terrifying, right? Because they're trying to convey to you that cougars are going to be following you for miles. They're going to be stalking you.
And when a cougar stalks you, they're not just following you, they're paying attention to every single movement you make. They're tuning into, are you going to be a fast runner? Will you fight them? Are you injured? Are you going to be some easy prey? And once they pick one person to start stalking that person, that prey becomes their sole focus. Now, of course, in a listening environment where you're talking to a potential client or an actual paying client, you're not hunting them, I hope that would be a very weird service to offer. Please don't do that. But it's that same level of listening. It's that same level of focus on what is being said and what is not being said, but is still being communicated. Now, things that you can do when you're listening to someone, you're trying to tap into your cougar brain is try to notice what's not being said. Are they being incongruent? Like the energy in which they're saying the thing may not actually match up to what they're saying.
This happens in corporate situations a lot. So you could have a leader who comes in and they've had a really stressful morning. Maybe they got into a fender bender after they had a fight with their wife. And they come in and they're in the meeting room and we all know that experience of this person giving a presentation, talking about how great everything's going, the numbers are up and this VP is really happy with how this department's producing X, Y and Z, but no one trusts them because this person has this level of anxiety that they're emitting that no one knows if it's related to this meeting or if it's related to something else. But everyone's on edge wondering who this person's pissed off at. And instead of paying attention to any of the metrics and any of the directives that are being given in this meeting, everyone's giving everyone else a really quick side eye like, are you getting fired? Am I getting fired? Who's getting fired in this room? Because there's something off. That's one situation where we're already tuning into our cougar brain. We're reading the room and we're understanding that there's something that's not being said.
It's kind of like when you show up to a dinner party and you walk into the room, maybe you're the first person there because you were the person that was providing the ice. And you walk into the room and you're like, hey everyone, so great to be here. Thanks for inviting me. And they seem happy to see you, but you can tell they were having a fight like 2 seconds before you walked in the door, right? So if you're thinking, this is going to be really hard for me, Katie, I don't understand why you're talking about this like it's easy. I want you to see that yoU're already doing it right. You're already perceiving things that aren't being said in your world. And because you have ADHD, you're probably perceiving a ton more than the average person. When we walk into rooms, we have to mirror the energy.
It's one of the things that we do without even thinking about it. And how do you mirror the energy if you can't read the energy? We get really good at reading energy. So your cougar brain is where you want to spend a lot of time if you're working with clients. And this is actually one of the best coaching skills, just the ability to listen and in the situation of that boardroom. What would the difference be if after the meeting, you went up to the person who was presenting and said, hey, is everything okay? I was listening to you and everything seems great, but are you okay? And this person just getting that valve release of, it's been a terrible morning. My wife and I got an argument, and then on the way into work, like, I was replaying this argument in my head and I wasn't really paying attention, and I rear ended someone and our insurance rates are going to go up and she's going to be mad at me for it. It's a day already being able to tune into that and ask about it and then also communicate to the rest of the team, no one's getting fired, they just had a really bad morning. It makes everything better.
So this is something that I want you to practice in your day to day life. I want you to practice it with your kids. And when in doubt, stay silent. When someone's talking to you and sharing something, or maybe you've asked them a question, stay silent for about 30 seconds longer than you normally would. And I know that feels really long. It feels like, oh, my God. Well, that's not how conversations happen. One of my cousin's kids, he was having a really hard time in the public school that he was in, and his parents had made this decision to put him into a private school that was a couple of towns over, and he was going to be the new kid in the middle of the year, and he didn't know anyone.
And he and I were running errands together. I was babysitting, and I asked him, how are you feeling about switching schools? And he shared, oh, yeah, it's fine. Yeah, no, I'm really excited for it. And I stayed silent for about 28 seconds. I was counting in my head. And then he's like, you know, actually, I'm really nervous. I'm worried that I'm not going to be able to make friends there. I don't know anyone.
I'm not in that town, so maybe people won't invite me over for play dates because I'll be too far away. And he just started sharing all this stuff that if I had jumped in and be like, oh, great, you're looking forward to it. That's amazing. What do you want to do for a snack today? He wouldn't have had a chance to share that. When we give people this space of silence, we are giving them space to share more, to open up, to speak. What's being unsaid now? Last but not least. Oh, what am I going to say next? Well, you'll have to keep listening to find out. But first, squirrel, squirrel, squirrel, squirrel.
Now, last but not least, I want to talk about the shark method of listening. I want you to think about sharks. Okay? So they're swimming through the oceans. They have an incredible sense of smell. If a dolphin has gotten a paper cut 3 miles away, they can smell it. Squirrel. Paper cuts with dolphins are a very serious problem. Obviously, they have this stationary addiction.
They just love going to the paper source and not having thumbs really gets in the way. Anyway, they can also sense, like, electromagnetic pulses. And I don't know if I'm saying that correctly, but basically our muscles flex with electricity, our heartbeats, because we have electricity in us, right? So if they can sense any electrical pulse within the water, that's a living being, right. They can sense the different currents of the ocean. There's a lot of things that they're perceiving, and it all has to do with the environment, right? And so that whole sensation of you walking into a room and knowing that someone just had a fight in this room, and it's going to be uncomfortable for a while until more people arrive. That is your shark brain. That is your ability to kind of read the room. The people who are the best at this are politicians and comedians.
A good politician who's a strong public speaker can walk into an event with thousands of people and read the emotion that is in this room. And it might be different in different pockets of the room, but they can understand very quickly how they can rile people up. Comedians, likewise, when they're on stage, they're not just telling their list of jokes, they're reading, okay, this group of people over here are finding these kinds of jokes really funny. Those people over there are a little more reserved, okay. So I might have to pick on someone over there to bring them into the fold. They're also noticing, like, anything that's going on in the environment that they can tie into their set. That is that shark method of listening. It is being able to notice what's happening in the environment.
This is something that is really cool to do when you're in public spaces, right? When you're at the supermarket, when you're on the train, when you're at dinner parties, just noticing what is the emotion in the different pockets of people. When you're in your shark brain, you become one of the safest people in the room for people to turn to for protection because you are aware of everything and people can sense that you're paying attention. You'll notice when you're in your shark brain, people will make eye contact with you even though they don't know you, but they'll sense that you're paying attention to whatever's happening in their space. And you'll often get those looks like, can you believe this guy? Or, oh, my God. I'm a little nervous about this person standing next to me. It's absolutely incredible. I urge you to practice it as much as you can. The next bit, I want you to think about when.
If you're worried about oversharing in these business situations and in conversations with potential or current clients, I want you to think about what are the stories that make you really relatable to your ideal client? And can you kind of prepackage it in a way that allows for you to create a script for yourself that doesn't divulge too much vulnerable information, but offers the information that this person might need to really deeply understand that you've been where they are and you understand how hard it is to go where they want to go. There's a great book that's an amazing resource for it, and you can read it or you can listen to it on audible. It's really engaging in both forms. It's called Building a story brand by Donald Miller. He talks about that hero's journey, and it's a framework that pretty much every movie, every book follows, right? There's a main character, and that is the hero of the story. And in the beginning, they're called to adventure. There's something that changes that they're not able to continue life as it was, and then of, like, they find their mean. My favorite example of this is Hercules, right? Literally a hero.
So he goes and finds the, what is he? A nymph, Danny DeVito, who trains him how to become a hero. And so he gains skills, he gains tools. He meets Pegasus, his flying horse. He develops some enemies, and then he starts having these battles. Every Star wars movie is actually based on this model. So I urge you to go and read that book or listen to it, but craft your story beforehand. Think of the storylines, the hero's journey that you've been on in your life that will relate to your ideal clients in those conversations. And just think about what parts you want to share and what parts you don't want to share.
We're all really good already at practicing arguments in the shower. Let's start practicing telling stories about our lives in the shower also, so we don't accidentally overshare and embarrass ourselves. And when in doubt, I want you to remember that just like you, most people in the world are shitty at listening. So while you were over sharing and divulging really vulnerable information that you're going to feel weird about later, that other person might not have been paying attention. They might have been in their own head trying to think of a clever thing to say in response. And then they may have walked away and felt stupid for not thinking of something smart to say in response, right? They're probably not thinking, oh my God, that's so embarrassing that they shared that. I would never share that. They're probably thinking, oh my God, I kind of sucked in that conversation.
And remember that this is a skill just like everything else. It gets better with practice. You can become a good listener if you practice enough. If you're ready to stop being a weenie and actually run a business that makes money, then go ahead and book a generate income strategy call with me by going to Weeniecast.com strategycall. On this call, we will talk about your goals, your dreams, and your frustrations in getting there. And if it's a fit for both of us, then we can talk about different ways to work together. This is completely unrelated, but have you seen those TikToks of the person who's running out of staples? And they're like, staples, sell staples. And then they continue running and the person's like, where are you going? Going to Dicks!