A week or two ago Neil and I were downtown and struck up a conversation with a woman we had just met. She was curious about the nature of our business. We explained that we are coaches. She nodded as if she understood, and we said a little more about how some of the individuals we coach have ADHD and similar challenges. There didn’t seem to be a need to say much more. The conversation moved on.

A few minutes later we were explaining that over the next couple of months we would be introducing a new focus for our coaching business. She paused momentarily and replied, “I see! I imagine September and the fall are busy times for you with all the sports teams that start up around that time.”

It took Neil and me a moment to realize why she referred to sports teams! She had heard we were coaches. In her world, coaches train athletes who often play on teams. Of course! After we clarified that we are life coaches and have nothing to do with sports, she nodded as if she understood, but what we do may still not have been totally clear to her.

That incident brought to my mind the challenges we each face when we talk with another person. In the conversation I just described, we communicated quite poorly and made huge assumptions. We assumed, quite unconsciously, that the three of us had a common understanding what “coaching” meant in this context. If our new friend hadn’t mentioned sports, providing an opportunity for us to clarify, she would have left thinking that Neil and I coached athletes!

I’m sure many books have been written on the topic of how human beings communicate and the many ways we miscommunicate. Communication can be particularly challenging for those of us with ADHD. 

Here are a few ways we with ADHD are more likely than others to miscommunicate:

  1. Speak impulsively, without pausing to consider the effect our words will have on others, leaving bad feelings all around
  2. Participate in a conversation in body only, with our mind a million miles away
  3. Allow our mind to race ahead to complete someone else’s sentence before they can, often arriving at a different conclusion from the speaker’s
  4. Listen only long enough to feel justified in launching our “response,” which really isn’t a response since we didn’t hear more than the first words the other person spoke; the rest of the time we were mentally preparing our come-back
  5. Experience a feeling of deep hurt based on what someone else said without following up to be sure what we thought we heard was what they actually meant.
  6. Fail to seek clarification through reflecting what we thought was said to be sure we didn’t misunderstand or miss something altogether.​​​​​​​

On the other hand, our ADHD can sometimes contribute positively to the quality of our communication. For example, we an be extremely compassionate and supportive when we are able to engage in the conversation with focus on the other person’s needs. We can be the most enthusiastic of listeners when someone is discussing something that we also find interesting. We often have a great deal of information to share on topics that interest us, but we have to watch out for completely taking over the conversation!

Remembering that communication goes two ways is key. Mindfulness is helpful with communication challenges. When we are noticing what is going on in the present moment, we are far less likely to speak impulsively, to let our minds drift far away for long periods, to interrupt others to complete their thoughts for them, or to take offense at a remark that was uttered with no such intent.

Pausing and allowing ourselves to be present both to the other person and to ourselves during a conversation can make us better listeners and more effective speakers. If there’s very little listening and words flow without care and thought, we’re not communicating.

Good communication generally includes a good deal of attention to what the other person is saying in order that what we say is truly responsive and connecting. Keep in mind that listening is as important or more important than speaking in being a good communicator. This sort of communication can be quite challenging for those of us with ADHD, but with practice it is achievable and very rewarding!

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