ADHD at Work

An ADHD Cheat Sheet for Effective Workplace Communication

An ADHD-friendly guide to communicating better at work. Learn how clarity, brevity, and planning can help you avoid misunderstandings, manage emotions, and increase productivity.

Cheerful woman in her 20s in business meeting with colleagues, teamwork, discussion, connection
Cheerful woman in her 20s in business meeting with colleagues, teamwork, discussion, connection

Spread the word: Effective communication skills are pivotal in any career. Regardless of industry or job function, knowing how to get your message across will help you get the outcome you want.

From writing emails to running meetings, hone in on effective workplace communication with these tips.

How to Communicate Effectively at Work

1. What’s Your Message?

  • Before you discuss or meet, think. Who is your audience? What do you want your audience to take away? Do you want to update your audience on a project’s status? Do you need to notify them of a change or a problem?
  • Identify a call to action. You want your audience to do something with the information you’ve provided. Otherwise, why are you communicating? Examples of call-to-action words and phrases include the following: review; provide input; approve; make a decision; plan; and create.
  • What does your audience need to know to act on your call to action? If you’re guilty of verbal diarrhea, plan out, refine, and rehearse your message. Avoid repeating information your audience already knows.
  • What’s the best way to communicate your message? A meeting? An email? A quick phone call?

2. Deliver the Message

Email Writing Tips

Clarity and brevity are key to effective emails. In this information-overload era people won’t hunt for your message.

  • Write a clear subject line that includes the following:
    • the subject
    • [CALL to ACTION], if any
    • deadline, if any
    • Here’s a sample subject line: [DECISION REQ’D] Project ABC Supplier Decision by Nov. 16, 2pm ET
  • Succinctly lay out information in the email body.
    • Start with the call to action. Write, “I’m sending you this because we need to make a decision about [x] by [time].”
    • Only provide relevant information. No more than five sentences is the rule of thumb. Of course, the length will depend on the subject matter.
  • Make your email scannable.
    • Assume readers will skim your message. Bullet points help guide the reader and encourage brevity on your part.
    • Use subheads to group information.
    • Highlight, bold, and/or underline essential text.
    • Use spacing to break up blocks of text.
    • When applicable, provide options and next steps in numbered form.

3. Run Effective Meetings

  • Create and select the best conditions to promote focus.
    • Eliminate all possible distractions. Avoid meeting at a busy cafe or even a busy corner of the office, for example, if noises distract you.
    • Plan to meet when you’re calm and alert. Don’t meet during the most stressful part of your day or when you’re tired and losing focus.
  • Prepare a timed agenda to keep the meeting on track and moving forward.
    • Include relevant and helpful background information in your agenda. Bring supporting documents if necessary. Copy attendees on the information if it’s a large meeting.
  • Plan to take notes.
    • Record the session for easy reference. You can create a transcript out of the audio file, though many tools today allow for transcription generation in real time as a recording is in progress.

[Read: How to Get Along with Work Groups]

  • Lead the meeting with the call to action and the “why.”
    • Come ready with a list of potential solutions to achieve the call to action.
  • Plan for questions and objections.
    • Expect concerns. Proactively think of resolutions. Consider pulling more data, providing updated project deadlines, addressing measures taken to avoid problems, etc.
    • Be curious about others’ perspectives and motivations. Listen to their words; don’t use their speaking time to think of a response. Ask the speaker to share specific examples if you need them.
    • Give yourself time to respond to tough questions. If you struggle to get your thoughts out in the moment, say, “That’s a good point. May I have some time to think about this and get back to you?” Pausing is fine; it’s way better than blurting out a response and it shows the other person that you care enough to develop a thorough answer.
    • Paraphrase to show the other person that you understand what they are saying. Say, “What I understand from what you said is [x]. Is that correct?”
  • Plan how you’ll deal with negative emotions.
    • Use scripts to pause the action. Say, “I need a moment. Can we take a 5-minute break so we can collect ourselves?”
    • Practice simple breathing exercises. Even taking a few deep breaths is enough to bring calm.
    • Keep a list of positive affirmations to tell yourself in the moment. Say, “I focus on solutions rather than problems.” and “I am in control of my emotions. I choose to respond with grace.”
  • Record decisions and outcomes. Restate next steps, responsibilities, deadlines, and other important information that came from your meeting.

Communication in the Workplace with ADHD: Next Steps

The content for this article was derived, in part, from the ADDitude ADHD Experts webinar titled, “GTD @ Work w/ ADHD: How to Set Expectations, Meet Deadlines & Increase Productivity” [Video Replay & Podcast #431] with Linda Walker, PCC, which was broadcast on November 15, 2022.

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