Productivity at Work

Watch Your Words: How People with ADHD Can Become Great Communicators

People don’t seem to get what I mean – I have so much to say that I usually confuse them when I talk. How can I learn to communicate clearly with attention deficit?

ADHD folks have so much information swirling in their heads that it’s hard for them to decide which piece of information gets out of the gate first. Everything seems urgent and important, but it may be confusing to your friend or conversation mate.

The solution is tricky, but manageable. First, when you see that glazed look of confusion in your friend’s eyes and on her face, stop talking. Yes, stop and smile. The abrupt silence will surprise her. You can say: “Oops, I think I may be losing you. What is it that you don’t understand?” Another option is: “OK, I think I’m talking in circles. Remind me about what’s most important for you to hear right now.”

Second, listen to, and hear, what your conversation mate says. Put your brain on hold while she is speaking, so you don’t start rehearsing what you want to say next. Don’t speak until she is finished talking. Listen only. Ask if she has anything else she wants to say. Then repeat back what you think you heard. “So you’re saying you only need the schedule for Monday, not for the entire week, is that right? Got it!” If she says no, repeat this step.

[Free Handout: Become a Small-Talk Superstar]

Third, refocus your thoughts on the redefined (and usually narrower) topic. Stop again. “OK, let me rewind, so I can get on the same page.” Ask yourself, “What is it I want to share? What is it they need to know?” If your listener tries to talk to you while you’re “rebooting,” hold up a hand and gently stop her. “Hang on. I really want to be clear about the schedule.”

Fourth, prune your answer. Think of the topic as a pinpoint of light. Nothing else is important except that light. Use fewer words, use simpler words. Listen more, explain yourself less. You have a big base of knowledge in your ADHD brain, but it doesn’t have to be shared all at once.

This technique takes practice, so you might want to do a test run with a patient, non-judgmental friend. By the way, this technique works for everyone, ADHD or not!

[Tact: The Foundation of Effective Communication]