Communication Pitfalls for the ADHD Brain

Cindy JobsHealth and Well-Being

October is ADHD Awareness Month. Throughout the month, I will be sharing resources, tips, strategies, and success stories.

This week let’s talk about communication. Communication is challenging enough, but with an ADHD brain, it gets even more complicated. Why is that?

I like the simplicity of the Brown Model of ADD/ADDH to help explain the process.


Let’s use this model as a lens for how communication may be more challenging for someone with ADHD.

Here are some paraphrased comments I’ve heard from my clients:

Activation: “I know I should have sent that e-mail two weeks ago, but I couldn’t decide who I should send it to. It’s only going to take a few minutes to write, but if I don’t know who to send it to, why bother?”

Focus: “Every time my boss wants to talk to me, I get so distracted. He has this cool picture in his office, and I find myself wondering what the back story is, and I completely tune him out. He’s caught me not paying attention on more than one occasion, and he’s starting to question my abilities.”

Effort: “I deserve a raise, and my boss agrees. She asked me to put in writing why I deserve it and request a particular raise amount. Isn’t that her job? Why do I have to do everything? It’s not even worth it anymore.”

Emotion: “Every time my roommate wants to talk about cleaning the house, I start to feel defensive, then I get mad. We end up yelling at each other and not speaking for days. All over a sink full of dishes. What’s up with that?”

Memory: “My wife and I had a huge fight last night. She said she asked me to pick up dinner, but I have no recollection of the conversation. I show up without dinner, and she accused me of not caring about her or how hard she works. Honestly, I’m sure she did ask me to do it, but I have no idea when that was.”

Action: “A bunch of us were sitting around talking about our weekend, and all of a sudden, people started walking away, right in the middle of my story. A friend said I talk too much and never get to the point. I guess I need to pay a bit more attention to what I’m doing.”

(Dani Donovan is excellent at bringing some levity to ADHD.)

If you or someone you care about is challenged with some of the traits noted in the Brown Model of ADD/ADHD, it may explain some of the challenges with effective communication. Here are some suggestions for better communication.


  • Listen to understand, not to respond.
  • Be patient.
  • Be mindful of body language (social cues).
  • Ask for clarification.
  • Make eye contact when possible.
  • Don’t interrupt.
  • Reflect back.


  • Be mindful of your partner.
    • Allow them to participate.
    • Be mindful of the timing of the conversation.
    • Watch for social cues (boredom, trying to speak, leaving the conversation, etc.)
  • Be mindful of mood and tone.
  • Stick to the point, minimal wandering.
  • Pause before reacting.

Sometimes, even with the best intentions, we don’t get the importance of a conversation. What should we do?




And finally, here’s some powerful language that may help:

  • “What I think I heard you say is . . . .”
  • “Can you repeat what you heard, please?”
  • “My takeaway from that is . . .”
  • “I’m feeling a disconnect. Can we explore that?”
  • “I feel like you are attacking. Can we talk about that?”
  • “When you say (fill in the blank), I feel (articulate your emotion).”
  • “I don’t think I understand. Can you (write, draw, rephrase) that for me, please?”

An additional strategy you may want to think about is to seek feedback from family, friends, and co-workers. It’s incredible what we learn about ourselves when we ask for and accept polite and respectful feedback.


Cindy Jobs

Looking for more information?

For a list of my favorite ADHD resources, check out my website for more information.

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