Listening from Belief

‘Cause maybe you DON’T know better

by Madelyn Griffith-Haynie, CTP, CMC, ACT, MCC, SCAC
Reflections Post on Listening Skills for Coaches

More than most people with “vanilla” functioning
ADD/EFDers have had people
trying to “fix” them all their lives —
along with the other citizens of Alphabet City
whose cognitive challenges are not physically obvious.

UM, this is why . . .

When we try to explain our actions in the context of our challenges, they barely make sense to us – and rarely make sense to them.

Even when those “fixers” appear to be listening,
they don’t always seem to be hearing.

Too many of them seem to believe that their own experience of life is valid and useful, and that their ADD/EFD buddy merely has to adopt their perspective and their correct attitude to be able to function differently — and well!

• You’re running a victim racket  . . .
• It’s all that coffee, or sugar, or lack of sleep –
ANYTHING besides Executive Functioning Disorders themselves . . .
• You are at the effect of an inaccurate BELIEF

Most of us understand intellectually that most “helpful” comments probably come from a positive, even loving intention. Most of us are willing to believe that those we’ve hired to help us (or who claim to love us) wish us well – but do you realize how UNloving those comments are in execution?  They don’t help, and they DO hurt.

They’re invalidating. They’re shaming and should-ing all over the place!

What’s worse, they don’t even work.

They frequently produce exactly the opposite of what the person who says them says they want! They confuse the issue and delay getting to the understanding that will actually make improved functioning possible. It’s not smart to devalue the clues! We’ll start telling you what we know you want to hear, and then where are we?

Invalidation comes from two assumptions that are flat out wrong:

  1. They assume lack of self-awareness — that we are not experiencing or describing our world view appropriately or accurately;
  2. They assume volition well, maybe we’re not exactly doing it on purpose, but we’re not making choices that will allow us NOT to do it either. And we could!

So, once again, we’re back to the underlying assumption that “all” a person who is struggling with one of the invisible disorders has to do is make a commitment to willingness and their world will shift on a dime.

This Chinese finger-trap is a consequence of a failure to listen from a basic belief in another’s experience of the world, their willingness to share it truthfully, and their ability to language it relatively accurately.

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Listening through filters

If we filter our listening through the idea that another is “over-reacting,” or exaggerating, or making excuses, or being controlling or immature or mean or irresponsible, or “running a racket,” our listening will be skewed by our underlying assumptions.

As a result, we all miss the important clues that will help us to make changes in the situation.

It’s difficult to listen for anything useful when our listening from
has already discounted the information in basic ways.

An example to which we can all relate:

Found HERE

The press sometimes reports a situation where an individual rushes to the Emergency Room only to be told that there is nothing wrong that is life-threatening. The specifics vary from case to case.

  • We discovered nothing out of the ordinary. Take two aspirin and call your doctor in the morning if you still have a headache.
  • No, you don’t have appendicitis. Your symptoms are probably the result of acid indigestion. Change your diet and you’ll be fine!
  • No, you are not having a heart attack. You are having an anxiety attack.

In the most distressing of reports, the second part of the story reports the death of the individual on their way home from the hospital — from something that was causing the very symptoms that took them to the Emergency Room in the first place.

How can this happen?

Are our medical schools turning out poorly trained, insensitive doctors who are in the field simply for the money? Of course not!

I know a lot of doctors who all work very hard to stay current with the advances in their profession. They sincerely want to give the very best care to the people who come to them for help. They fight valiantly to work within the increasingly restrictive guidelines imposed by the advent of managed care.

They pay a great deal of money for liability insurance to protect themselves in an increasingly litigious society — to retain their ability to stay in the field to help as many people as they can.

What is happening here is a perfect example of a failure to listen from belief.

Had each doctor proceeded out of a belief that NO person would come to an Emergency room unless something were seriously wrong, they simply would not have stopped testing until they found the problem.

However, there are patients who misuse the system or ascribe symptoms to incorrect causes and must be sent home with accurate diagnoses that are much less serious. There are also people who panic at any downturn in their health, as well as hypochondriacs and individuals who have nothing wrong with them whatsoever.

Doctors must “listen from” educated skepticism

There is simply not enough time in any doctor’s day to do a thorough workup on every single person who walks through the door! They’ve had to learn ways of listening that allow them to filter those cases that require immediate medical intervention from those that don’t.

That is not a good model for you to emulate in other personal or professional relationships, however! I would like to suggest that the most powerful way to listen, the ONLY way that is really, truly listening, is to listen from belief.

I don’t advocate listening through assumptions of any kind, generally, but I think you’ll find that filtering your listening through the following four assumptions will help you greatly, especially when you are viewing life through The ADD Lens™ – as if cognitive struggles are a product of problems or glitches in the attentional mechanism common in bona-fide, diagnosed ADDers.

Four Beneficial Assumptions

1.  Solutions are individual

•  No two human beings have the same “flavor” of cognition
•  FLAVOR shapes what an individual can and cannot do personally

2.  Distinctions help bring unreasonable assumptions
to consciousness.

•  Take the time to distinguish the terms you find yourself using.
•  Make sure you distinguish “can’t” from “won’t”

If you don’t consciously hold on to the distinction between “can’t” and “won’t,” the intractability of won’t slides on over to infect can’t, which makes turning can’t into CAN ten times harder than it needs to be.

3.   Real questions have real answers

•  Ask real questions — not indictments ending with question marks
•  Emulate detective Sherlock Holmes, not trial lawyer Perry Mason
•  Practice Sherlocking until it becomes second nature

4.  Listening from belief is the most powerful approach

•  Avoid shoulds
 If the shoe doesn’t fit, don’t blame the foot!


Listen for Clues to the FACTS

  • CLUES that will allow you to get to the information you want and need — without the expectation that it will be given in exactly the format you envision
  • CLUES contained in the other person’s reports of the nature of their experience that will help you to fine tune the solutions you come up with together so that you BOTH get what you want and need.
  • CLUES that things are moving in the right direction (ignoring the clues that they aren’t!)

Listen from: 

  • BELIEF that the other person is telling you the truth about their experience to the best of their ability – that they are not exaggerating, not offering lame excuses, not failing to “take a fearless moral inventory” or refusing to look objectively at the underlying reasons for their behavior — and certainly not lying to you.
  • BELIEF that there is an explanation for their behavior that will furnish the clues that will allow you to make changes in your relationship that will please both of you.
  • BELIEF that solutions are individual specific — that just because something works effectively for you does not mean it will work for anyone else — and that the failure to do so says nothing what-so-ever about their respect for you or how hard they try.

In addition, do your best to embrace the idea that just because something did not work effectively for you does not mean it will not work for another — or that they are wasting their time and yours to try it.

Becoming an effective listener doesn’t happen by accident. It takes conscientious effort and consistent practice to develop the habit of listening from belief – but I’m willing to bet that you will discover that it will change everything if you’ll make the effort.

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About Madelyn Griffith-Haynie, MCC, SCAC
Award-winning ADD Coach Training Field founder; ADD Coaching field co-founder; [life] Coaching pioneer -- Neurodiversity Advocate, Coach, Mentor & Poster Girl -- Multi-Certified -- 25 years working with EFD [Executive Functioning disorders] and struggles in hundreds of people from all walks of life. I developed and delivered the world's first ADD-specific coach training curriculum: multi-year, brain-based, and ICF Certification tracked. In addition to my expertise in ADD/EF Systems Development Coaching, I am known for training and mentoring globally well-informed ADD Coach LEADERS with the vision to innovate, many of the most visible, knowledgeable and successful ADD Coaches in the field today (several of whom now deliver highly visible ADD coach trainings themselves). For almost a decade, I personally sponsored and facilitated seven monthly, virtual and global, no-charge support and information groups The ADD Hours™ - including The ADD Expert Speakers Series, hosting well-known ADD Professionals who were generous with their information and expertise, joining me in my belief that "It takes a village to educate a world." I am committed to being a thorn in the side of ADD-ignorance in service of changing the way neurodiversity is thought about and treated - seeing "a world that works for everyone" in my lifetime. Get in touch when you're ready to have a life that works BECAUSE of who you are, building on strengths to step off that frustrating treadmill "when 'wanting to' just doesn't get it DONE!"

14 Responses to Listening from Belief

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  4. Debbie says:

    another wonderful post, Madelyn. I consider the people who others are perhaps ‘judging’ and ‘not listening to’ could gain a lot from this article too, in terms of understanding where the others, who may be causing hurtful behaviour by not listening, are coming from.
    humans are complex, but with goodwill, and a little help from your excellent posts, we can all get along! 🙂


    • I KNOW I approved and replied to this earlier, Debbie, but here it is in the “pending” list. So sorry for the delay.
      How sweet of you to comment that my posts help. Too bad that those who REALLY need to read things like this probably won’t, and folks like you (already teaching these ideas to your daughter) will review and comment.

      Hopefully, posts like these will most help those who truly mean only the best but sometimes let their frustrations take over to remember to comment on what they’d like to see increase vs. the behaviors they’d like stopped.

      Your comments are so lovingly supportive – thank you SO much.



      • Debbie says:

        im a firm believer in things happen when they are meant to happen, like you can have a book you bought and you never get around to reading it then one day years later you find it, open it, read it and it is PERFECT for that moment!!!
        so.. on that note….. well i guess all we can do is those of us who keep trying to learn, improve, be kinder, just keep trying harder, in the belief that someone who laughs often makes everyone else laugh, and love generates more love…..
        im happy and touched that you find my comments supportive:) xxx


  5. Léa says:

    I’ve been living here in the south of France for nearly nine years. I’ve never been rushed during a doctor’s appointment. Also, doctors still make house calls!


  6. noelleg44 says:

    Hi Madelyn – this is a good article for medical students. Listening is the basis of a good doctor – patient interaction and the correct diagnosis; It’s unfortunate that it takes time to listen, and our physicians are so limited in terms of the time they can give to each patient!

    Liked by 1 person

    • I know. Many of my older doctor friends have told me that they yearn for “the good old days” before managed care forced the onset of the 15-minute appt. Even specialists have less time – because their patients’ insurance won’t pay for it.

      Maybe med schools need to take a page from the speed dating folks – speed listening forums! lol 🙂

      The rest of us would benefit from putting down our smart phones to create more time for listening. But, I imagine I’m preaching to the choir here.

      btw- when the weather cools and I can think again (so it doesn’t take me so long to manage the rest of my life), I plan to dig into one of your books, snuggled under a throw with a cup of something warm – and my puppy – by my side. Lots of reasons to love Fall and Winter! (I’ll send you a review once that happens – but no breath-holding in that wonderful pool of yours. I’m making do with a window AC next to my computer) 🙂

      Thanks for taking time to read & comment.



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