Communication can be difficult for everyone. But adults with ADHD experience communication difficulties more often than average. In this article, we examine these ADHD communication problems. What kind of challenges can arise, why does it happen, and what can we do? We share our tips, based on experience and research.
I myself am diagnosed with ADD, ADHD inattentive type. Although I have learned a lot in the previous years, there's still room for progress. I would love to hear your experience too, in the comments. Let's explore the topic together…
Communication difficulties in ADHD adults
There are different causes for difficulties that might arise while communicating with ADHD adults. For example, according to research, people with ADHD sometimes appear egocentric in communication. When we're interested, we are fully present and active. When we lose our interest or when the topic is too difficult for us, we lose our attention. Obviously, this causes the other frustration.
We sometimes miss certain details or nuances, or due to impulsiveness, interrupt people in the middle of a sentence. Maybe our mind is wandering, and because of that, we are not fully present in the conversation.
Communication is essential
Communication is essential in all sorts of relationships: family, romantic relationships, friendships and professional relationships. When communication is problematic, the relationship suffers. When communication is difficult, it's essential to work on it, for the relationship to survive.
Causes of communication difficulties in ADHD adults
As you might have experienced, communication difficulties can show up in different shapes and forms. For us to understand where things go wrong, it's important to find the root of the problem.
Let's explore some possible causes of communication problems in ADHD adults, so we can find solutions.
The adult with ADHD talks too much
In an equal conversation, both conversation partners speak (approximately) an equally amount of time. Dealing with ADHD symptoms, we can lose sight of that balance. Especially if it is about a topic that is important to us, it may just be that we are talking all the time. The other might feel that their ideas don't matter.
The solution to this problem is simple, but takes some practice: consciously get used to taking a break after a few sentences. Give the other person time to respond. Or even better; ask questions and listen consciously to the answer, without thinking about your next sentence. If necessary, repeat what your communication partner said, to show that you really got it.
Forgetfulness causes communication problems
Thoughts arise very fast in the mind of an adult with ADHD. Before we speak, we might have already forgotten the topic of the beginning of the conversation, because our mind made a few jumps ahead. Because the mind of an ADHD adult is very active, we might experience an overload of thoughts. The result: we might forget details that seem important (to you).
As an ADHD person, it might be worth it to take notes during an important conversation. For example, we can write down the important details, or write down questions we want to ask. That way, there's no need to interrupt our communication partner in the middle of a sentence.
We can also use our phone's voice recorder, but make sure the other person is okay with that first.
ADHD communication problems: Continuously interrupting someone
During a conversation, it may just happen that an important question arises. Or we have a brilliant idea (in our perception;)). This happens regularly in an ADHD brain. But we can hold that thought for a moment before we throw it out in the middle of the conversation.
People with AD(H)D sometimes experience communication difficulties because we express the new thoughts right away. Even if our idea is brilliant, throwing it into the conversation right away might not be the smartest thing to do. The other will (rightly) feel that we are interrupting them. That is perceived as quite rude, even if we mean well.
We should not interrupt the other person. Maybe we can take out that notebook, write down our question or idea and discuss it when the other person has finished speaking.
Stumbling over our own thoughts
Everyone sometimes stumbles over their own thoughts. We don't have to have a diagnosis like ADHD for that. Nevertheless, stumbling seems to be more common in people with ADD and ADHD. We might know exactly what message we want to convey, but we fail to find the right words. It's like something is stuck somewhere in our head. Maybe we use the wrong word, or we suffer from brain fog and we suddenly have no idea what we were saying. We don't need a master in linguistics to understand that this can lead to communication difficulties.
The solution? Taking our time. We can take a few deep breaths in and out and take the time to gather our thoughts. If necessary, we can name the problem: “I'm having a hard time coming up with the right words”. We can even ask if we can come back to the topic later.
If we notice that our conversation partner reacts differently than we would expect based on what we wanted to say, we can ask them kindly to tell us what they think we said. That might sound like: “Sorry, I feel like something isn't right. Maybe I wasn't clear in my explanation. Could you tell me what you heard me say, or what you think I mean?”
Sometimes it's just a matter of asking questions.
The ADHD mind easily wanders, which causes communication difficulties
With an ADD or ADHD brain, we get distracted more easily than most people. One minute we're talking about an incident in class or at work, the next we're discussing the evolution of fire engines over time. Why? Because we heard a fire truck with a siren. For most people, these kinds of thought leaps are impossible to follow. In addition, people like to deal with one topic at the time, instead of turning the conversation around all the time.
A tip that appears to work effectively in practice to solve these kinds of communication problems is to agree on a signal or code word . For example, we can agree that our partner will gently press our foot with their foot if they notice that we are wandering. That way, we know that we need to return to the previous topic. This makes dinner parties (for example) a lot less uncomfortable, because the conversations run more smoothly.
An ADHD mind wanders completely to another world sometimes
“Being in a totally different world” in our mind is nice during a vacation or when we are dreaming, but in a conversation it is more convenient if we stay on topic. Many ADHD communication problems arise because we ‘left the topic' and wandered away. Physically we are still here, but mentally we are in our own world. We stopped listening and we miss vital information. We might find the conversation boring, or too complicated. Or we are just very excited about something else.
To avoid drifting off, it can help us to focus on eye contact. To not just look at our partners' eyes, but to pay attention to body language; the non-verbal cues. We should be careful not to make too much eye contact. Looking someone in the eye non-stop is uncomfortable in most settings. It can feel intimidating, and sometimes comes across as downright aggressive. We can make eye contact and break it again. Temporarily look at another point and make eye contact again. To keep our mind on the conversation, it can also help to regularly repeat what the other person has said. That might sound like ‘I love it that you have a passion for cars, very few women have that'.
Practical tips to prevent ADHD communication problems
We understand that the tips we mentioned sound very easy, but are harder to practice. Let's summarize. To prevent ADHD communication difficulties, we can:
- Ask questions to stay engaged
- Take notes
- Don't interrupt, instead take a breath
- Take our time to find the right words
- Repeat what the other is saying
We can get overwhelmed in conversations. If we notice this, we can take a moment to take a deep breath. To let our mind settle. We can even share what's happening with our communication partner. We could schedule shorter calls, we can indicate to our conversation partner what we need. Furthermore, we can be open, and show them that we are willing to work on our issues. When we are interrupting someone, we can apologize. We can even ask them to share with us when we are interrupting, so we can become conscious.
Communicating well with ADHD: Practice makes perfect
Now that you've read these tips, the communication problems caused by ADHD will not suddenly be over. This takes practice. I'm still practicing every day. We can find someone we trust and ask them to practice with us. With them, we can have conversations and ask them to help us communicate better. Chances are they'll be more than happy to help!
ADHD communication difficulties: What is your experience?
Are you also diagnosed with ADHD and suffer from communication problems, or does your partner or date perhaps have ADHD and do you suffer from this? Hopefully the tips in this article have helped you. Please note that communication is difficult for everyone, and that we can improve a lot by pracitcing with people we trust. We'd love to hear your experience. Maybe you can share your tips as well. Please share your story in the comments!