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ADHD and Communication

With any conversation or interaction, our expectations of the outcome influence how we hold ourselves, our choice of words, and our tone of voice. Learn more about ADHD and communication.

Imagine, perhaps, giving advice to a close friend. She is a lawyer, and needs to resolve a negotiation during an upcoming meeting. The opposing lawyer is intensely challenging, aggressive, and reactive, and exceedingly difficult to engage in rational discussion. How would you advise your friend to act upon entering the room?

What would happen if she walked in angry, confrontational, or started yelling? Conversely, how might she comport herself in a way more likely to lead to resolution? What traits might allow her to balance firmly sticking to her principles while deescalating the tension in the room?

With any conversation or interaction, our expectations of the outcome influence how we hold ourselves, our choice of words, and our tone of voice. Pausing and listening, not forcing an immediate solution, we allow other plausible outcomes to emerge. Without letting go of our beliefs, acknowledging the impact of our tone and word choice and emotional state is a first step towards effective communication in any situation.

The path of any conversation is steered by much more than our words alone. Our expectations affect what we choose to say, how we say it, and how we respond. The expectations of the other person in the conversation do the same. Our nonverbal language, such as facial expression or posture, often displayed without our awareness and may tell more about our intention than the words we choose. And our ability to listen and respond is affected by our mental state, our physical state, and years of experience through which we filter our lives.

Communicating mindfully doesn’t mean rolling over and giving up. A communication style where you never state your needs is equally unbalanced. You’re angry — that’s real. There is a serious problem that needs solving — that’s real as well. It means keeping our own perspective yet empathetically noticing the viewpoint of another person.

Somewhere in the middle is an opportunity to listen, to creatively problem solve, to engage your daughter in the discussion without escalating her fear. As always, underneath her anger, or withdrawn sullen silence, or seeming apathy, below all of it she wants what you want. She’d like to be happy and at ease. That’s what you want for her as well.

A communication checklist:

  • Pause and listen first, and then pause again if you find yourself missing what is being said to you.
  • Monitor your body language and tone
  • Monitor your expectations and any predictions of what will come next
  • When needed, take a few breaths — or take a break
  • Pay full attention — and create a situation where whomever you are talking to can do the same, away from other people, television, phones, computers …
  • When communication breaks down, pause, settle yourself, and in a less emotionally charged moment, try again.

Adapted from “The Family ADHD Solution(opens in a new window)” by Mark Bertin M.D. Copyright © 2011 by the author and reprinted by permission of Palgrave Macmillan, a division of Macmillan Publishers Ltd.

Dr. Mark Bertin is a developmental pediatrician and the author of The Family ADHD Solution(opens in a new window). He attended UCLA School of Medicine, trained in general pediatrics at Children’s Hospital Oakland, and completed fellowship at Albert Einstein School of Medicine. Dr. Bertin is an assistant professor of pediatrics at New York Medical College, on the editorial board for Common Sense Media, and on faculty for the Windward Teacher Training Institute. He also leads mindfulness based stress reduction classes, frequently for parents.

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