When Your Boss has the Attention Span of a Gnat

October 25th, 2017 Posted by Behavior, Blog Post 0 thoughts on “When Your Boss has the Attention Span of a Gnat”

Have you ever heard someone say, “My boss has the attention span of a gnat?” Have you ever said it about someone else?

Perhaps you should think twice before ever saying it again. Not only is it demeaning, the very characteristic you are complaining about can actually be a good thing. In fact, it is a very common characteristic in successful leaders.

A post at The Balance entitled The Common Traits of Successful Senior Executives says that one of them, number 13, is as follows:

“They multitask and tend to exhibit short attention spans. Unfortunately, this behavior is often perceived by others as not paying attention or caring. They often have to learn the behaviors of how to listen and show people that they are listening.”

But what if it goes beyond exhibited or perceived behavior, someone you work with or for actually has ADHD, and hasn’t learned to listen or show people she or he is listening?

For a methodical/analytical person, this can be very frustrating. Likewise, it can be a very frustrating proposition for the person with ADHD to work with the very methodical person.

The good news is that both can be very successful and happy in a working relationship by following just a few simple tips.

Start by accentuating the positive

It helps to first understand each other, then accentuate the positives.

For example, someone with ADHD may have many characteristics and behaviors that can be of benefit to the team. An article at Inc. entitled How People With ADHD Can Be Hugely Successful lists 8 “superpowers” of individuals with ADHD as follows:

  1. Unlimited energy
  2. Hyperfocus
  3. Abundant creativity
  4. Simple solutions
  5. Risk without thinking
  6. Multitasking
  7. Stubbornness
  8. Sensitivity

Now that you see the positive aspects in the other person, start thinking about how everyone can use them to the team’s advantage (mutual benefit).

Learn how to work with others who are different from you

You may have to learn how to work with one another. Do a little research. Take a class or attend a seminar. There is a lot of good information available to you if you just take a little time to find and study it.

For example, a blog post at PsychCentral entitled 5 Tips for Working with Someone with ADHD lists these five suggestions for working effectively together:

  • Keep explanations concise, to-the-point and high-level
  • If you’re feeling ignored, speak up
  • If something is time-sensitive, give a deadline
  • Don’t micromanage
  • Don’t make ADHD symptoms about character

Now think of the make-up of the team

Sometimes opposites attract. Sometimes, partnering up a methodical individual and an individual with ADHD can bring about tremendous results. Sometimes it can be a colossal failure. It may very well depend on how extreme the individuals are from one another. If either or both have the ability to be flexible and work outside of their comfort zones, even a little, things can work out. But if neither can, a third party mediator or coach may be required.

The third party would have to be able to easily maneuver from one extreme to the other without frustration or judgment in order to serve as a calming force between the two vessels. But without that balance, one may lead the team to chaotic explosion while the other may lead the team to paralyzing implosion. So give that some thought before building the team and be flexible to change once the team is built.

Set a few soft boundaries

If you work with or for someone whose characteristics and behaviors are different from your own, you have to be very flexible while simultaneously setting some soft boundaries. Here are a few suggestions for doing so:

  • Begin your day early and in isolation in order to get certain things accomplished or to allow someone else to have this same “quiet time” – make these things a priority during this time (don’t get distracted yourself)
  • If you can’t start early, set aside time each day during normal hours for the same purpose
  • Accept that the rest of your day may feel like organized chaos – be prepared for multiple impromptu meetings, calls, emails and requests if someone you work with has ADHD and be prepared for long periods of not hearing from someone if they are a very methodical/analytical thinker
  • In addition to the scheduled quiet time, and frequent impromptu meetings, schedule time together for a specific purpose and stay focused on that purpose when you are together
  • Keep track of things by writing them down or recording them in tools like Plan Canvas – then consistently ask each other which of these items have the highest priority
  • Practice listening – often the other individual just needs to “think out loud” and isn’t really looking for your feedback as they do – don’t underestimate the value of being a sounding board in this way

Finally, when you feel frustrated, take a deep breath and remember that while you are thinking the other person has the attention span of a gnat, that other person is probably thinking that if you were any more anally retentive you couldn’t sit down for fear of sucking up the furniture.

And most importantly, in neither case, is it about character. It is about learning to effectively work together and utilizing each others’ strengths in ways that are most positively impactful for all concerned.

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