How To Communicate Effectively With People Who Think Differently

I can hear some of you who are reading this post ask, everybody thinks differently, so what exactly do you mean? Correct, people don’t think or do anything exactly the same, unless, perhaps, identical twins.

Image by Pete Linforth from Pixabay

Image by Pete Linforth from Pixabay

People with personality disorders do think differently:

  • BiPolar: Obsessive Thoughts, think in the extremes – catastrophizing.
  • Paranoid Personality Disorders: Exhibit suspicious thinking.
  • Avoidant Personality Disorder: Think they are completely flawed and inferior.
  • Schizotypal Personality Disorders: Extremely superstitious with unusual beliefs in magic or the supernatural.
  • Narcissistic Personality Disorder: Vacillate between over-idealizing themselves, and completely devaluing themselves.
  • Borderline Personality Disorder: Black and white thinking.
  • ADHD: Think they are communicating when they’re just talking.

In this paper, I will focus on ADHA communication. I will explore communication with other personality disorders in subsequent posts.

 

Ted and ADHD

It was hard for Ted to start over trying to build a relationship with Tanya.

He thought back over his ten-year marriage to Amy. It seemed like she never understood him. That was part of the problem between them. He’d try and try to communicate with her, but she just didn’t understand. It seemed that the more he talked, the more distant she became.

Some times when he’d try to talk to her, she’d look at him like he was an alien from a different planet. She’d wrinkle-up her brow and say, “What the heck are you talking about?”

He’d try to explain it one more time and she’d throw up her hands and storm out. Occasionally, she’d say, “Can you talk in plain English so I can understand you?”

“The more I talked the worse it got. It got to the place I just couldn’t think anymore. It’s like my mind shut down. What’s wrong with me, anyway? I know I have ADHD, but what does that have to do with communicating? My mom took me to the doctor when I was about 12. He said it’s why I can’t sit still. I’m always moving and I get bored easily. But, what does that have to do with talking to my wife?”

 

Communicate, Don’t Just Talk and Talk

People with ADHD run into several different problems when trying to communicate. As you know from reading some of my posts on ADHD, people with the disorder are easily distracted. You can be talking to a person with ADHD and suddenly you notice they are gone. Their eyes take on a “vacant look” that tells you they have disappeared even though they are physically exactly where they were when the conversation started. Something that was said could trigger a thought that takes them on a “journey far far away”. If they have their phone close by and it beeps or makes some other sound they are gone, even if they don’t pick up the phone.

 

Communication Hot Spots for people with ADHD:

Image by John Hain from Pixabay

Image by John Hain from Pixabay

Non-Stop Talking:

Impulsive Talking: Because of the impulsivity that most people with ADHD experience whenever a thought, feeling, or reaction pops into their mind they immediately have to say it. Most usually the person with ADHD does not take the time to evaluate whether this is the time or place for their thought to be said. They just blurt it out.

Solution: It’s very important to stop and think before speaking. Count to 10 to give yourself time before saying what pops into your mind. If necessary, ask someone else what they think about you saying it or how to say it.

Spilling Everything: Many with ADHD are compelled to say what’s on their mind before they forget it. This leaves the other person frustrated because of the flurry of words without exercising the standard communication and listening techniques. They often say, “I need to say this before I forget it.”

Solution: If you are the speaker and the listener is not aware of your impulsivity, tell him about your compulsion to vent and ask him for patience. After spilling everything on your mind, stop. Ask your listener what he has heard. Enter into a give-and-take communication about the subject. Also, design a device that will help you remember what you want to say.  If a truly important subject occurs to you, do as my husband does, and put a “pin in it” to discuss it later. He physically goes through the motions of pinning a note to a bulletin board. With the deliberate action, he remembers the subject almost 100% of the time.

Easily Distracted:

Switching Subjects: Those of us who are non-ADHD often get frustrated and have trouble following when the subject is switched without a resolution. Some non-ADHD people will look at the ADHD person and say, “What did you say? It just doesn’t make any sense? Please slow down and explain what you are saying so I can understand.”

Solution: Be self-aware that you have a tendency to switch subjects. Catch yourself and enlist your partner’s help in staying on track. Put a “pin in it”, as described above. It also helps to take several deep breaths and make a conscious choice to slow down.

Tuning Out the Speakers Words: A term used to explain ADHD is “fast brain”. When the person with ADHD is under pressure or feeling anxiety their brain is abuzz. They don’t have time to listen to what others are saying. When this happens, forget about responding to him. He can’t hear. If you ask him what you said, he may be able to give you a word or two, but not the thought.

Solution: When you, the one with ADHD, catch yourself beginning to tune out, ask your self, “Am I listening?” Tell yourself that your partner’s thoughts and words are important. If you need to, ask the speaker to repeat what they just said.

 

Image by ashish choudhary from Pixabay

Image by Ashish Choudhary from Pixabay

Argumentative:

Playing The Blame Game: People with ADHD often defend themselves against real or imagined criticisms. In many instances, the person with ADHD hears maybe five words, jumps to a conclusion of what the speaker is going to say and launches into defensive behavior and/or communication. They are often too busy defending, explaining, blaming, or justifying themselves that they can’t hear the speaker’s point.

Solution: If you hear yourself say, “It wasn’t my fault” or “You do it, too” or “That’s not right” or something similar, more than once, take a break. Go to the bathroom and splash cold water on your face, or take a walk, or go into another room to allow yourself to calm down, or take several deep breaths. Reset your attitude.

Make sure that when you leave the room, you don’t just walk away. Make an appointment to continue the conversation. Too often, when a break is taken, and a time is not set to resume the discussion, it results in important issues being dropped and the other person feeling like what they have to say or their feelings are not important.

Easily Bored: People with ADHD have a real problem with low stimulation and boredom. They do not handle boredom well. They need mental stimulation. It has been stated that they experience boredom when the activity in the front of their brains is too low. Women with ADHD who cannot handle boredom are often called “drama queens”.

Solution: Keep yourself busy. If it becomes a real problem talk to your doctor about a treatment plan.

Afraid To Speak Up or Caught Off Guard:

Some with ADHD have problems with their brain’s “locking up.” When a person with ADHD gets overly emotional, sometimes they just can’t think. This may happen in stressful situations or with intimidating or aggressive people.

Solution: If you are aware of an approaching situation, write down what you want to say beforehand then during the situation, if your brain locks up, you can read what you had written or use your notes to guide your part of the communication.

If you are caught off guard, take a time out or say, “I need to think about this.” Take several deep breaths to calm your emotions. At that point, if you need to, write down what you want to say and read it.

 

Trying To Build a New Relationship

Ted sat out on the back deck going over the argument he and Tanya had just had. She accused him of being mean and abusive.

“Am I starting this cycle over again, just with a different woman? Why? What do I need to do differently? She wrinkles-up her brow just like Amy did. What’s wrong with me? Why can’t they understand me?”

He sat and thought and prayed for a good while. Maybe God would help him. He really didn’t want a repeat of the last 10 years. A thought went through his mind, “Tell her about the ADHD.” He sat wondering why he had the thought. Was that God talking?

He went to the back door and asked Tanya to join him on the deck.

She walked out, taking a seat without looking at him.

“I want to apologize to you for my behavior lately. I’ve been angry with Amy and with God, but it’s not fair to take it out on you. Please forgive me.”

She turned and looked at him without saying a word. He could tell she was not happy. Her face had a reddish tint to it like she was very angry. He noticed that her brow started to relax just a little. But, she still didn’t say a word.

“There is something I need to tell you,” he said as she sat very still almost like a statue but gestured with her hand for him to continue.

He took a deep breath, “I’ve never told anyone this, but I have ADHD. I was diagnosed with it when I was 12.”

The angry appearance was instantly replaced by a puzzled look as she said, “Why haven’t you told anybody?”

“Good question,” he thought for a moment. “I guess I was ashamed and didn’t think it was a problem. I don’t notice anything.”

“Of course you don’t notice anything. You’ve always been this way and you’re inside the box. It looks like home,” she said.

“It looks like home,” he repeated then sat quietly thinking about what she had said. “You’re right. It is home. But why don’t you see it as home?”

“Because my home, my box looks like me, the way I do things, the way I think, the way I perceive things. What I can see of the inside of your box seems very strange to me? Sometimes it seems like another planet.”

“That’s what Amy used to say to me. Why are you no longer angry with me?”

Tanya’s face softened as he laughed slightly, “I studied ADHD in college. Now, it makes a lot more sense. You’re not just being a jerk.”

“I still don’t understand,” he said.

“Well, first of all, you’re very argumentative. No matter what I say you get defensive and start the blame game. I know you got a raw deal with Amy, but that can’t be all of it.”

“What do you mean? I’m not argumentative. I’m just explaining my point of view…” he said.

Tanya interrupted, “Many people with ADHD and other personality disorders, get defensive whenever they feel criticized whether it’s real or not. You launch a defense after just five words just in case it’s a criticism. You interrupt what I’m saying, maybe, so you don’t have to hear everything.”

Ted started to interrupt. Tanya held up her hand, “Don’t interrupt. You need to hear this.”

He settled back into his seat.

“And don’t shut me out. You need to listen.”

He nodded.

“Just like right now. You don’t necessarily like the way the conversation is going to you try to derail it, change the subject, or argue with me, right?”

Ted nodded.

“That is part of the ADHD. You’ve learned how to compensate for things that might be pointed at you. You deflect them to someone else or change the subject completely so you don’t have to hear it. Usually, this happens to avoid taking responsibility for the communication problem. Am I correct?”

This time he didn’t nod or say anything, but the fire danced in his eyes. At least he didn’t lock her out. She had his complete attention, which was rare. Usually, he’d get bored with the conversation or he’d switch the subject to something more comfortable for him.

“I am aware of most of the things you have to deal with. I’m willing to work with you to be able to make this relationship work. Yes, there are concessions we’ll both have to make. We can create workarounds so that we’re both comfortable. Deal?”

Ted stared at her for several minutes before answering. His face began to soften as the stress and tension began to leave his face. Finally, a hint of a smile appeared.

“Well,” he said. “That sounds like the best deal I’ve heard all day. I’ll take it.”

He pulled her into his arms, “Looks like we’re going to be doing some reconstruction on our houses.”