by Paul O’Connor, MCC

As coaches, asking questions is one of the basic things we do. That’s how we elicit information from our clients so we know how to coach them. But coaching those with ADHD is very different from coaching the general population; we have to ask questions that take into account the nature of ADHD.

For example, I coach business executives who have ADHD. They are usually very creative, often are the brilliant visionaries behind their organizations. Yet consistently, they may not be able to remember where they left their keys. Or, they may struggle to organize a simple to do list.

Because there are so many variables in the behavioral traits of people with ADHD, if we want to be effective coaches we must understand not only how the ADHD brain is wired and the way it works, we must also be able to quickly recognize the conflicting types of behaviors that may show up in our clients.

PAAC Competency #6, Asks Evocative and Insightful Questions, gives us a starting point as to how we might we question our clients in light of all this.

The first part of Competency #6 speaks to our approach:

“Asks strategic, curiosity-based questions … .”

Many people with ADHD have a very difficult time thinking long term. It’s hard for them to stay focused on how something they’re doing now could affect them down the road. One of the ways we can be of value as coaches, then, is to help them to think more strategically, more in terms of the future, rather than to focus on mistakes they might have made in the past.

So we ask questions that come from a place of curiosity and speak to a bigger vision; a future that could offer different possibilities than what they are experiencing now. For example, “You joked that you are the world’s worst procrastinator … I’m wondering how your career might be impacted if you relinquished that title?”

The second part of Competency #6 describes the kinds of questions we might ask:

” … which engage the client to think deeply, observe his or her own strengths and processes, explore new information, challenge assumptions, and consider other viewpoints….”.

People with ADHD are not good self-observers, having been reminded so often about their shortcomings that they may have come to believe their weaknesses define them.

By inviting the client to consider the totality of who they are, we can help them get away from negative self-talk and look at their lives in new ways. I often ask my clients, “What are you really good at doing?” A question like that can yield a treasure trove of information, as people with ADHD, much more so than others, are strongly driven by what interests them, and this kind of question really brings that out.

The third part of Competency #6 gets to the heart of why we ask questions in the first place:

“… so the client may discern new possibilities, choices, discoveries, insights or actions.”

Clients stuck in their own paradigm, as those with ADHD often are, have a hard time seeing other possibilities. So we help them to explore new ways of thinking. We might ask questions along the lines of, “Do you think you’re looking for a new job … or a new career?” Or, “What would happen if tomorrow you gave two weeks notice?” Questions like that get them to consider actions they might not have looked at otherwise.

Bottom line, it’s important to remember that it’s the client who is going to solve their problems or embrace their goals, not us. So while our questions should be evocative, they don’t have to be earth shattering; indeed, they can be quite simple. We ask them, and then step back out of the way and listen to how they respond. By asking evocative and insightful questions we give our clients room to reboot how they think about their issues so they can discover their own answers.