Ten Basic Coaching Skills used most often with ADDers

— Updated legacy post -orig. 11/15/95- by Madelyn Griffith-Haynie, CTP, CMC, A.C.T., MCC, SCAC
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ADDers have had people trying to “fix” them all their lives: 

Source: behance.net

If you’d listen to your father . . .
“If you’d just get organized . . .”
“If you’d only try . . .”

While those suggestions usually come from a loving intention, they are actually UNloving in execution, most frequently because they collapse won’t with can’t.

At the heart of those ever-so-well-meaning “should-s” is the assumption that all ADDers have to do is make a commitment to willingness and their worlds will shift.

In other words, the underlying belief is that the ADDer could
“if they really wanted to,” and that “all” that is missing is

a high enough degree of “wanting to.”


CAN’T vs. won’t

The fundamental difference between those two is that “won’t” assumes that the behavior is amenable to will while “can’t” assumes that there is a reason for the behavior that is out of the ADDer’s direct control.

A convenient excuse?   Quite the opposite!!  Once we figure out the problem, then (and only then) the client and coach (or parent and child, husband and wife, etc.) can work together  to come up with some work-arounds to change “can’t” into CAN.
(check out If the Shoe Doesn’t Fit, Don’t Blame the FOOT!)

As long as we are focused on supplying “the” solution, we are missing all of the client specific clues to THEIR solution — clues that we would have if we would LISTEN – the single most important arrow in a coach’s quiver.

1.  LISTENING — NOT just “letting someone talk,” MORE than “active listening” — the only true listening in the entire world  listening from belief.

Most people listen from agenda: like ancient TV lawyer Perry Mason, listening for the smallest hint of a word or a phrase that will give him the opportunity  to point out what he already believes is true.  

Annoying, isn’t it?  It is also exactly the opposite of what we need to do to get to the bottom of what’s really going on.

2.  REPHRASING —  Only after we have made sure that we have let them know that we have heard what they are saying.  Helping our clients with the language to explain more specifically what is going on — for themselves and to the people in their world — is a gift beyond measure.  The trick is in resisting the urge to “uplanguage” so early in the process that we teach them to speak “correctly” (i.e., in a more “positive” manner, or in a more “charge-neutral” manner) before we’ve had a chance to gather all the clues we need to coach them powerfully.


CLIENT: “Today I am crazy!  Nothing is going right and I can’t even think straight.”

COACH (prematurely and without really “getting” the client): “Surely something is going right —  and you may well be upset and distracted, but you most certainly aren’t crazy.  Let’s find a more positive way to phrase that.”

OOPS!  Too soon (not to mention just a tad snide).  You’ll teach that client to hide the clues from you.

BETTER: “So today is a day you feel crazy and lots of things are going wrong.  You’re even starting to question your thinking skills.  Let’s see if we can figure out the pieces that have made up this state of mind.  When you woke up, were you crazy?  When was the first thing that started going wrong?”

By using rephrasing in the second manner, the underlying intent of “uplanguaging” is handled in a more subtle manner, AND it helps the clients focus their thinking in a way that allows them to discover that they most certainly CAN “think straight” — priming some skills to increase focus as we work.

3.  ARTICULATING — Another language skill we use often, and with caution.  We want our clients to begin to see “forest” as well as “trees,”  but we don’t want to give them more language than they can assimilate, which would add to the “fuzziness” of their world.

Many ADDers have particular trouble “getting to the bottom line,” tossed about by the distractions of their very busy minds.  When the coach can hear the “macro” focus of the communication and ask specific questions that re-focus the client away from the “micro” focus that has them running around in circles, the client has the clarity to proceed powerfully.

Example: “So what is the most important part of the story you are trying to tell me — the part you’d really want me to know if the phone lines went dead forever in just a minute?  Oh, I see, you’d want me to know that even though a lot of things seem to be competing for your attention, you’ve used the skills you’ve practiced and have stayed pretty much on track all day.  Good job!”

4. REFRAMING — Most ADDers have real problems with black-and-white thinking, and it is that kind of thinking that results in the behavior that often gets identified as ADD Mood Swings. 

Helping them distinguish between “a thoughtless remark” and “a rude person” – or “a less than perfect outcome” from “a failure” is an important part of ADD coaching.  (It would be hard for anyone to avoid feeling extremely upset if we all viewed “the failures” in our lives in such an unforgiving and inflexible light.)

Helping a client to reframe gives them a chance to rethink some of the black-and-white decisions they’ve made about themselves — to help them discover that they are not “Lazy, Stupid or Crazy”, but merely stuck, unsure how to proceed, or Boggled

This new understanding of themselves and their behaviors gives them the space to come up with a way to transition to a better place.  “STUPID” is a life sentence that is pretty easy to respond to with the attitude, “Why bother?”

5. ENDORSING — We tell the client what is good about them as many times as we can work it in.  Most ADDers suffer from low self-esteem issues and we can make a real difference in their self-perception by reminding them what they do well — or by pointing out that some of the skills that they take for granted are actually rare and valuable.

  • “You are unusually empathic.”
  • “I love the energy with which you approach life.”
  • “With all the running around in circles that you did today, you actually accomplished more than most people do in a weekend!  Just imagine how much you will be able to do as you become more focused in the way you use that energy.”

These comments become life rafts amid the sea of comments they hear daily –– “Why can’t you ever be on time?”  “When are you going to organize that mess in the bathroom?”  “Why don’t you return phone calls?”  “How many times do I have to remind you to . . .?”

The endorsing comments we make are the penicillin that
creates the clear space in our client’s cognitive petri dish —
which is essential before they can expect to change much of anything. 

6.  CLARIFYING — Everybody has a lot of collapsed distinctions where ADD is concerned.  The well-trained, well-informed, fully ADD-literate Coach can make a huge difference by helping the client to get specific about what they are thinking and feeling.  They help them IDENTIFY the parts of themselves that are ADD issues, distinguishing them from the parts that are human being issues – as well as from the parts that are client specific choice-based issues.

7.  CONTEXTUALIZING —  Putting the frame around the ADD picture, pointing out what we see, conditioning the “come-from” and adding perspectives are all skills ADD Coaches use often when giving the client the CONTEXT they need to be able to figure out what is going on and to help that client to decide how they choose to proceed.

8.  ADVISING — Perhaps more than with many of the other client “types,” ADD Coaches find themselves actually giving advice to their clients because it helps them  focus.

  • We use YOU, I, and IT messages
    You are someone who doesn’t have the luxury of failing to write it in your appointment book.”
    I feel that you’d stay on track more easily if you’d spend thirty minutes every day in a planning session with yourself.”
    It’s more reliable to look it up on your date-book than to count on yourself to remember it.”
  • We make direct requests
    “This week, I want you to schedule a thirty minute planning session every day and call my voice mail to let me know the minute you sit down to do it.  Are you willing to try this system for one week?”
  • And we actually give our clients our opinions when warranted, so that they have a focus from which to decide for themselves what actions are appropriate for them.
    “From what you’ve told me about your dreams for yourself, that activity seems totally off track to me.  I think you need to take another look at your values.”

9.  LOVING — yes, loving.  Many of these clients have made the unconscious decision that their behavior makes them innately unlovable.  ADD coaches need to find the lovable portions of every client and coach from that place ONLY.  For some of these clients, the absolute feeling of being loved and lovable will be the key to the kind of turnaround that I see in the lives of my clients all the time.

10.  STANDING FOR — Probably the most important arrow in the ADD Coach’s quiver.  We must consistently view the client in a much higher place than they view themselves, and language our coaching in a way that communicates our STAND for them every session.

  • “From my experience of you, it is just a matter of time before this is no longer a problem for you.”
  • “You are one of the most tenacious people I have ever met and it is just a matter of time before you have gotten to the other side of this shift.”
  • “Of course you can do whatever you set out to do.  Since that’s the case, lets make sure we are setting out to do the stuff that is really valuable to YOU as you live your life.”

More than mere endorsing, the coach actually holds the image of the client as a high functioning, get-things-done person as a FACT and interacts from that place despite any and all evidence to the contrary. 

No, we don’t “make things up.”

We extrapolate out from the seedling to the giant tree that we can actually “see” right now,
and hold that picture up for the client to see every time a thoughtless passer-by mutters a
depricating remark about how slow the growth process seems to be.

Laser coaching, no sugar-coating:

  • If you are a coach who is not ready-willing-and ABLE to *do* the things mentioned in this document, you are unsuited for the ADD Coaching profession until you are.
  • If you are already working with an ADDer, please hire an ADD Mentor Coach to help YOU help them while you update your skills base, or
  • Refer your ADDers to someone who understands their needs and is
    ready-willing-and ABLE to accommodate them —
    an ADD Coach with brain-based, ADD-specific coach training.

No matter how long you have been coaching “vanilla” clients, or
How successful your current skill set has been with those clients,
OR what you have been told by ANY person or organization to the contrary . . .

if you choose to work with clients with attentional spectrum dysregulations,
you need and MUST HAVE an ADD-specific skill set.

“If you ‘don’t believe in’ guide dogs, confine your work to the sighted.” ~ mgh

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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!"

And what do YOU think? I'm interested.

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