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“Let people know that you mean well” with Dr. Ari Tuckman and Parveen Panwar, Mr. Activated

Let people know that you mean well, even when you sometimes miss the mark, and show them that you are open to feedback. When you step on someone’s toes, acknowledge it, apologize, and make amends, if necessary. Show people that you are approachable. As a part of my series about the “How Business Leaders Are […]

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Let people know that you mean well, even when you sometimes miss the mark, and show them that you are open to feedback. When you step on someone’s toes, acknowledge it, apologize, and make amends, if necessary. Show people that you are approachable.

As a part of my series about the “How Business Leaders Are Helping To Promote The Mental Wellness Of Their Employees” I had the pleasure of interviewing Ari Tuckman.

Ari Tuckman, Psy.D., MBA, is a psychologist who specializes in the diagnosis and treatment of ADHD. He is the author of More Attention, Less DeficitUnderstand Your Brain, Get More Done, and ADHD After Dark. A prolific writer and international presenter, Dr. Tuckman has given more than 400 presentations and is the co-chair of CHADD’s 2020 Virtual International Conference on ADHD. He also hosts the popular podcast “More Attention, Less Deficit” for adults with ADHD, that has over one hundred episodes and close to 3 million downloads. Tuckman has a private practice in West Chester, Pennsylvania, where he works with adults and adolescents with ADHD.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dive into our discussion, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you share with us the backstory about what brought you to your specific career path?

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career?

I was lucky enough to get invited to give several presentations on ADHD in Istanbul, Turkey. Istanbul is a swirling, overwhelming, and amazing mix of East and West, of old (really old) and new. Towards the end of a presentation for parents of kids with ADHD, a mother in full traditional Islamic dress stood up to tearfully ask a question through the interpreter. Her daughter was struggling with friends and in school because of her untreated ADHD. The sadness and yearning to help her child was palpable. In many ways, her life was really different from the folks who visit my office or sit in the audience in presentations back home, but no matter where you go parents want the best for their kids.

What advice would you suggest to your colleagues in your industry to thrive and avoid burnout?

Therapists are busier than ever these days. The positive side of it is that, because most of them are doing video sessions, it’s easier for clients to attend sessions if they don’t need to add in travel time. The less positive side is that there is a higher need due to the additional stress of COVID-19. Doing work and school from home is more demanding and stressful, as is the reduced social opportunities. And then there are the folks who are out of work and really worried, plus those who have lost loved ones. These additional stresses exacerbate any preexisting issues.

Therapists are stepping up to meet the needs of not only more clients, but also clients who are struggling more. All the while, they have their own additional stresses. To counter this double-whammy, therapists need to follow their own advice and practice good self-care. This starts with the basics of sleep, diet, and exercise, but also includes preserving time for other enjoyable activities that shake off the dust of the day. It’s also important to know one’s limits and to set boundaries on when one is on the clock.

What advice would you give to other leaders about how to create a fantastic work culture?

My big thing is creating sustainable situations that continue to bring out the best in all the people involved. For a situation to be sustainable, all the people involved need to feel like it works for them. In the workplace, this means that everyone feels like they have a worthwhile part to play and that their contribution is respected. When disagreements inevitably arise, the participants can be honest with each other, without any bad reactions, and come to a decision that mostly works.

Given the additional stresses of life during COVID, at work and at home, we need to be more flexible about how, when, and where works gets done if we are to continue to get the best from employees. Some employees have more difficult situations or have more trouble working from home. We definitely need to honor the deadlines of the day, but we also want everyone to still bring their best next week and next month. Given the sudden curveball that the pandemic has thrown into everyone’s lives, I would encourage managers and employees to be flexible and creative and find the ways that work best, not just for today but for the foreseeable future.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Do you have a story about how that was relevant in your life?

I love smart, funny, or pithy lines and use them a lot in therapy, since they can convey an important message quickly and memorably. One of my favorites is, “Smart decisions require wisdom. Unfortunately, wisdom comes from learning from bad decisions.”

The reason why I love this quote is that it reminds us that life is a process of learning from experience. Formal education is important, as is informal mentoring from those who have come before, but most big life transitions need to be experienced to be understood. Whether it’s big stuff like entering middle school, moving in with a romantic partner, having a child, or changing jobs or small stuff like trying a new restaurant, we do the best we can with what we know. As we stick with it, we figure out how to do it a little better, some of which can only come from trying it.

I use this line with clients to encourage them to take chances, to try new things and to see mistakes or failures as learning opportunities. If something didn’t work (and even if it did), then what does that tell you? How are you wiser now? You don’t have to get it perfect the first time; you just need to be a little wiser the second time and third time and whatever it takes. Besides, lots of things in life are constantly evolving where we continue to grow wiser.

Ok thank you for all that. Now let’s move to the main focus of our interview. As you know, the collective mental health of our country is facing extreme pressure. In recent years many companies have begun offering mental health programs for their employees. For the sake of inspiring others, we would love to hear about five steps or initiatives that companies have taken to help improve or optimize their employees’ mental wellness. Can you please share a story or example for each?

These ideas are wonderful, but sadly they are not yet commonplace. What strategies would you suggest to raise awareness about the importance of supporting the mental wellness of employees?

I’m a psychologist in private practice and also the conference committee co-chair for CHADD (Children and Adults with Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder), the leading resource on ADHD. This volunteer position keeps me plugged in to what is new and important in diagnosing, treating, teaching, parenting, and living with ADHD. CHADD provides support, training, education, and advocacy for those diagnosed with ADHD, for those who suspect they may have it and those who have a loved one, friend, even co-worker or employee with ADHD. Too many people still think of ADHD as just a kid thing. It’s not — 11 million American adults have ADHD and only one in five is properly diagnosed and therefore treated, so we are losing productivity from employees who are struggling more than they have to. Four in five American adults with ADHD therefore are having treatable struggles with distractibility, time management, disorganization, forgetfulness, and procrastination. They have the necessary job skills, but have a harder time managing competing demands and applying those skills consistently.

Now let’s add COVID-19 to this backdrop — we now have a home that’s been transformed into both an office and a school. For the non-ADHD working parent at home, it’s a feat to complete a full task, like a work call, while fielding the occasional question from a child who needs help with their virtual math lesson. Imagine what it is like for your colleague with ADHD who will have an even harder time managing this split attention task. Even without kids at home, the additional distractions and lack of structure from working at home require greater self-direction which is one of the key areas impacted by ADHD.

As a manager, especially now, it is very important for you to understand the basics of ADHD and what it looks like in an adult. This will set you and the rest of your team up for success in both normal and abnormal workplace environments. CHADD provides so many tools and resources, at your disposal, no matter your connection to ADHD, that can provide the information and support you need. There’s no need to re-invent the wheel. It may be that it is one specific employee who is falling behind that brings you to the CHADD site, but ADHD-friendly strategies tend to be good strategies that benefit most people, especially in these more trying times.

From your experience or research, what are different steps that each of us as individuals, as a community and as a society, can take to effectively offer support to those around us who are feeling stressed, depressed, anxious and having other mental health issues? Can you explain?

A: Stress, especially when prolonged, can exacerbate anxiety and depression. While it’s common and normal to feel some anxiety or depression in difficult times, some people are especially prone to feel them more intensely. Among those various reasons, we know that ADHD, especially when insufficiently managed, is a significant risk factor. For example, one in three adults with ADHD also suffers from depression. Now, even for those without ADHD, depression symptoms are three times higher now than they were pre-pandemic, according to a new JAMA report out in September. Depression and anxiety make an already difficult situation even harder and further reduce productivity at work. With the colder and darker seasons approaching, it is more imperative than ever to be on the lookout for the signs of depression, as well as ADHD and other risk factors, to help individuals find the support they need. October is ADHD Awareness Month, which reminds us of the importance of dedicating greater attention to the 17 million adults and children with this neurodevelopmental disorder. In this particularly difficult year, filled with increased life stressors such as job loss, financial issues, relationship challenges, significant changes to normal routines, schooling and working at home, and heightened physical and mental health concerns, we must keep an even closer watch. And, as the saying goes, if you see something, say something.

Habits can play a huge role in mental wellness. What are the best strategies you would suggest to develop good healthy habits for optimal mental wellness that can replace any poor habits?

COVID-19 and the current political environment have elevated ADHD symptoms for many, given the increased chance for depression, anxiety, or even simply more distraction when working from home. CHADD offers valuable tips for healthy habits that individuals with ADHD can develop to help counter some of their most significant workplace challenges, whether you are working from home or physically in the office. And, as I said before, if your first attempts at the strategies didn’t quite hit the bullseye, then take a moment to think about why not and what it has taught you, so you can refine your technique.

1. Distractibility

Tip: Noise-cancelling headphones and white noise machines can help minimize external sounds. If you have an office, consider closing your door to avoid being distracted by your officemates/family. Limit your access to social media when you need to get tasks done. To-do lists can help you keep on task and combat your tendencies to daydream.

2. Impulsivity

Tips: Try to nip temptations in the bud, rather than relying on willpower to resist them. For example, turn off non-essential alerts and notifications, close tabs with distracting websites, and avoid starting tasks that lead you down the rabbit hole (e.g., looking something up on Wikipedia).

3. Poor Memory

Tips: Use recording devices to capture details, set alarms on your phone, write checklists for action items to complete after a meeting, or scribble out a quick sticky note as a memory trigger. Also eliminate distractions when something needs to be remembered or when it’s time to do something, so you can more reliably transfer information between attention and memory.

4. Boredom

Tips: To reduce boredom, work in chunks by setting a timer to stay on task, break up long tasks into shorter ones, take breaks to stand up and walk around, remind yourself of the future benefit of completing the task. It will also take less willpower to keep going if you had a good night’s sleep, worked out, and have been eating well.

5. Hyperactivity

Tips: For those in careers that are more sedentary, take intermittent breaks, volunteer to take notes in meetings, and move around. You can also bring your lunch so you don’t have to spend time buying it and can use your break to exercise instead, even if it is just a walk around the office building.

6. Time Management

Tips: Put tasks into your schedule so you have a designated time to work on things. To activate yourself, break larger projects into smaller pieces with individual due dates, preferably with your boss or coworker. Reward yourself for achieving each goal. Use alarms, buzzers, etc. to remind yourself of meetings and other tasks.

7. Procrastination

Tips: Break projects into small pieces, enlist your supervisor’s assistance in setting deadlines for tasks, if possible, or work with a co-worker who manages time well. When tempted to push off a task, remind yourself of how you will feel later if you do or don’t work on it now. Also, don’t talk yourself into believing lines like, “I can just do it later.”

8. Paperwork/Details

Tips: Create a filing system that works for you and is quick and easy to use. This probably begins with finding out what you actually need to keep and getting rid of the rest. Once in a while, bite the bullet and put everything where it needs to go, reminding yourself of how good it feels to not waste time hunting for something.

9. Interpersonal/Social Skills

Tips: Let people know that you mean well, even when you sometimes miss the mark, and show them that you are open to feedback. When you step on someone’s toes, acknowledge it, apologize, and make amends, if necessary. Show people that you are approachable.

Do you use any meditation, breathing or mind-calming practices that promote your mental wellbeing? We’d love to hear about all of them. How have they impacted your own life?

My big thing is exercise which is good not only for the body but also the mind, so that is my personal meditation. I often recommend exercise and also meditation to clients since both help with cognitive functioning, emotion regulation, sleep quality, and just generally feeling better. Both are also helpful for managing stress, depression, anxiety and neuroticism which is good for everyone, but are more common among those with ADHD. All of this is especially important during these more stressful times, so we need to be extra vigilant that these healthy habits don’t fall by the wayside. Whether it’s a full-on workout or just a quick walk around the yard or a few push-ups, your productivity will be better afterwards. Same for a few calming mindful breaths in between meetings.

Is there a particular book that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story?

Russell Barkley’s Executive Functions really broadened my perspective on not only ADHD, but also on how humans’ advanced cognitive functions evolved and continue to shape how we interact. He explains how we developed high-level cognitive processes to both compete with peers as well as to work towards bigger, loftier goals that transcend our own life. By understanding how ADHD impacts these functions, we can better understand what it means for all people. It’s pretty intellectual, but brilliant.

For those who aren’t into brainy books, CHADD offers numerous programs and services that provide information, guidance, and support to the entire ADHD community. The organization serves as home to the National Resource Center on ADHD, which includes a library featuring the latest scientific and medical evidence-based information. You can keyword search any topic, and the library will offer a link to relevant books and papers.

You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

A recognition that different people have different skills. Society does best when we have the right people in the right jobs. Sometimes this means finding what job will be the best fit for a specific person, but often it means finding the ways to tweak the job so that it brings out the best from the person in it. The hundreds or thousands of conversations I have had with clients about success or failure at work have taught me that the details really matter. All the re-jiggering that the pandemic has required has shown us that sometimes we need to be flexible. My clients with ADHD have especially shown me that being flexible about how things get done can make all the difference in bringing the best from each employee. This requires that employees feel that their manager is approachable with problems and willing to problem-solve it. This culture comes from the top, so leaders need to live that same message.

What is the best way our readers can further follow your work online?

CHADD’s website (www.chadd.org) is a rich resource for information. The conference, which I co-chair, will be online this year, Nov. 5–7, and can be found here: https://chadd-2020.pathable.co/. We have a great team, but perhaps you can see my fingerprints on the tone of the conference, the speakers, and various other activities.

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