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Do I Need to Manage Someone Differently if they have ADHD?

The quick answer to this is ‘yes’ and ‘no’. It’s ‘no’ because if you apply the same principles whenever someone new joins your team, you’re likely to quickly build rapport with them and understand them better. It’s a ‘yes’ because there are certain ways of working that will allow people with ADHD to perform better. The caveat is that you need to have built enough of a relationship with someone in the first place that they feel comfortable disclosing their neurodiversity to you.


When new team members join Real Conversations Work

We always ask new team members how they like to work and how we can set them up for success. We use Insights personality profiles as a way into this conversation and we talk about this as a whole team so that everyone is sharing how they like to communicate, not just the newer person.

When Sophie joined our team, she told us that she has ADHD and because she was so open, this allowed us to ask her questions about how we can best support her.


Assumptions vs. the realities of ADHD

When I saw the Iceberg Model in Sophie’s earlier blog about her ADHD, I think it makes a brilliant point that what you can see on the outside with a neurodiverse team member is so different to what’s going on under the surface and that it’s easy to make the wrong assumptions.



Here are a few assumptions that you might find yourself accidentally making. I found myself starting to make some of them and it’s easily done so be gentle with yourself if you realise you’ve been doing the same. Notice your assumption and challenge it.


Assumption Reality
Not making eye contact on video calls means the person isn’t interested in the conversation. Making a lot of direct eye contact can feel uncomfortable for people with ADHD. This is a relief for me as I spend so much time focusing on making eye contact with people in virtual 121s or group workshops that it makes me tired. When I speak to Sophie, I know that it’s more comfortable for her if I don’t do this, and my eyes get a rest.
If someone interrupts a conversation to make a point, they’re being rude and disrespectful of others’ airtime. The person could be excited about the conversation, so they want to make their point straight away, in case they forget it later, which often happens with ADHD.
Fidgeting in their chair means that they’re bored with a conversation and want it to move on. It could be that they’ve been sitting still for too long and need to release some energy or that they’ve forgotten to go to the toilet and now need to go desperately!
Someone wants to be micro-managed as they want to talk frequently about tasks and deadlines after they’re agreed. Having regular conversations to check understanding and priorities builds confidence that they’re working on the right things and nothing has been forgotten.
Appearing tired in meetings means that they’re having late nights and not properly managing their sleep routine. ADHD can mess with sleep patterns as can ADHD medication itself.

Working with a neurodiverse team members

If you have a neurodiverse team member, you should be on the lookout for any assumptions you’re making about their behaviour. These will likely be based on your experiences of working with neurotypical team members. If you’re not sure how to read a specific behaviour, simply ask – with curiosity rather than judgement though. For example,

‘I noticed [behaviour] and I would sometimes think that it meant [assumption]. I’m not sure whether that’s the case here. Would you be able to help me understand from it means from your perspective?’

Rather than

‘Why do you do [behaviour]? It is [judgement]’

Making fewer assumptions and judgements can lead to much better conversations with your team and you find out tips about how they like to work which will be a game changer for your relationship with them.


Experiencing the world from a neurodiverse point of view

Every effort I’ve made to understand Sophie’s world has been worth it. I can now share in the experience of her ADHD superpowers. For me, Sophie is now:

  • Someone I can lose track of time with. We dream and have long conversations full of different random threads, which is the antidote to the hours of structured work.
  • Someone who asks unexpected questions. These go to the heart of assumptions we’ve made and make me look at things differently.
  • Someone who isn’t afraid to repeat those questions. Or become demotivated if we don’t go with her suggestion the first time (or even the 5th, at which point we’re normally laughing).
  • Someone who can go into hyper-focus and come back with an astonishing amount of great work.
  • Someone I respect for her openness about their struggles, which makes it easier for me to be vulnerable too.


Changing how you manage to support someone with ADHD

So, going back to the original question of whether you need to change how you manage someone, ADHD At Work has come up with three simple and effective tips:

  1. Look for an individual’s unique set of symptoms: neurodiversity is just that – diverse – and it varies hugely from person to person. So ask what’s challenging and what’s helpful.
  2. Assign tasks based on an individual’s strengths: this helps to boost most people’s performance and enjoyment.
  3. Consider flexible scheduling: this might be linked to variable sleep patterns around ADHD but it’s also about managing energy levels and topping this up by allowing time for exercise, breaks or whatever someone needs in the day.


Could everyone in your team benefit from these techniques?

I hear people saying that they don’t know how to support someone with ADHD, and they feel that they need specialist input to learn this. Having now learnt about ADHD, I think that if you follow these tips, you’ll create a healthy team environment for everyone, regardless of where they sit on the neurodiversity scale:

  • Ask everyone what environment and support they need to do their best work.
  • Recognise that every time someone joins the team, the whole team needs to come together to understand any changes in dynamics, strengths, and needs in the team.
  • Ask questions rather than make assumptions about the behaviour you see i.e., get below the waterline of the iceberg.
  • Allow everyone to ‘check in’ at the start of a team meeting i.e., share what’s on their mind and their current mood. This promotes a greater understanding of each other while also helping the individual better focus on the meeting.

We’d love to help you have better conversations with your team, regardless of whether they are neurodiverse or neurotypical. Get in touch to find out more

This Post Has 2 Comments

  1. Sarah Tomson

    Thanks Rachel, we’re really glad you enjoyed it 🙂

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