Communicating at Work with ADHD

Deborah Health Guide
  • I work in the classroom management department at UC Berkeley, and I have a lot of contact with students who are reserving classrooms for their student organizations. Last week two women came into our office, and one started explaining the problem they were having making a reservation. After about two minutes, I interrupted her. "Okay, hard to believe, but you talk even more quickly than I do. If I didn't have a cold, I could probably keep up, but my brain's fuzzy from being congested." Looking sheepish, she turned to her companion, who explained the situation at about half the speed.


    After they left, I started thinking about my own rapid-fire speech, and how it might be making my communication with others less effective. A couple of years after I was diagnosed with ADHD, I started realizing that a high percentage of the people I talked to wore a slightly confused look on their face on more than one occasion. This led me to start paying more attention to the communication pitfalls I saw myself run into at work.

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    In your personal life, people probably get annoyed with you once in a while when your ADHD hampers their communication with you. In the workplace, these shortcomings can hamper or even sideline your career. It's one thing to interrupt your spouse on a regular basis, but quite another thing to do the same thing with your boss. Below I've listed some of the main stumbling blocks ADHD people encounter in communicating.


    1. Not listening to other people, especially those who speak slower than us (which is pretty much anyone who doesn't have ADHD).

    Listening is as important to good communication, if not more so, as speaking. Is it an effort to actively listen to someone else talk without getting bored and tuning out? Yes, frequently. But if your boss or co-worker is assuming that you're actually listening to what they have to say, and that's not the case, you could be setting yourself up for a lot of misunderstandings.

    2. Not asking for input during a presentation.
    Let's face it - one-sided communication can be boring. Getting your audience involved turns a presentation into an exchange of ideas. If you're presenting an idea to someone one-on-one, or even to a group, in most cases it's appropriate to stop every so often and ask, "What do you think?" or "Any thoughts?" When the individuals(s) reply, you need to actively listen and then respond.

    3. Interrupting.
    Ah, the downfall of many an ADHD communicator. There are a couple of reasons why we tend to interrupt other people. One is that our minds process everything so quickly that not only do we get bored listening to someone who probably speaks slower than our racing thoughts, but our minds jump ahead to conclusions so quickly that we think we know what the person is going to say, and we cut someone off.

    4. Not preparing what we're going to say.
    Granted, one of the benefits of ADHD is that we tend to be able to think on our feet and improvise. But one of our weaknesses is an inability to stay on topic, due to our distractibility. It's a good idea to spend a few minutes preparing before you present an idea to a boss or co-worker to get your thoughts in order.


Published On: March 10, 2010