10 Ways Neurodiverse Folks Can Have Deep, Thoughtful & Easy Conversations With Anyone

awkward man in between man and woman

Do you want to learn how to talk to anyone and have better conversations? Do you ever wish that you could pause time, take back something you said, and start over? 

Would you like to be someone who has quick, interesting comebacks in conversations, instead of thinking of something good to say 10 minutes later?

Typical elements of conversation and communication can be tricky for people with ADHD or other neurodivergent individuals.

They may interrupt or speak too quickly, space out unintentionally and miss key elements of a conversation, have difficulty processing information, or feel insecure about what they have to say.

But it's not only neurodivergent people who could use a guide for how to be more comfortable talking to others.

We all have our moments when conversation doesn't flow naturally and learning how to talk to anyone is a skill!

RELATED: 3 Steps To Achieve Tone Of Voice Awareness In Neurodiverse Families So All Members Are Comfortable And Safe

Learning how to talk to anyone that involves listening and speaking more effectively can help neurodivergent individuals improve their interpersonal skills and reduce social anxiety.

There’s a general assumption that all people are in complete control of their words, actions, and emotions, that everyone knows the unspoken, unwritten, and often mysterious rules of social engagement.

However, this doesn't account for neurodivergent experiences, strengths, or challenges with communication.

It also neglects to account for the effects that anxiety and depression can have on the body and mind during interactions.

Fortunately, there are a few lessons that can help all of us communicate better. 

Here are 10 tips for how to talk to anyone — regardless of whether you are neurodivergent or neurotypical.

1. Join others, respectfully.

When entering a conversation that’s already in progress, be friendly and respectful.

Listen and observe before communicating, so you can understand the subject that is being discussed and can get a sense of what’s happening emotionally among the participants.

2. Participate authentically.

Be genuine. Ask questions, but don't feel the need to conduct an interview. Plus, it might come off as dominating the conversation.

Practice pausing before making any responses or judgments. Consider validating the other person's concerns or experiences, not minimizing them.

If you miss something or get distracted, that's OK! It happens. Try to come back slowly, by first listening to assess what’s happening. It's OK to ask someone to repeat something for clarification if needed.

3. Reflect back.

Repeat part of what you hear, which validates the other person so that they feel heard. This also helps you remember parts of the discussion.

Try using a mirroring statement, such as "So, what you’re saying is..." or a summarizing statement, like, "Oh, wow. You just got that new job!"

This reflection will also help compensate for potential wandering attention because you're sharing some of the details you heard, even if you’ve missed others!

4. Avoid giving directives.

No one wants to be told what to do. It’s best to gently suggest or ask about a way of doing something instead of telling someone what or how they should act.

For example, instead of saying, "You should ask for a promotion or find another job," try rephrasing to use a softer approach, such as, "Would you consider asking for a promotion? Maybe it's time to look for another job."

5. Monitor your pacing.

Notice your communication speed and whether it seems to work well for the other participant. Would talking faster or slower be a helpful adjustment to your or the other person?

Their facial expressions might help you monitor their reactions and whether you need to make a change or take a little pause.

RELATED: The Very Best Strategies To Reduce Conflict And Increase Calmness In Your Neurodiverse Kids

6. Say goodbye if you feel that you need to.

It's OK to leave at any point during a conversation if you feel uncomfortable or would find a break helpful.

When you're ready to leave, it might help to keep it quick and simply communicate your need to leave. For example, "Great to see you again! I’ve gotta run. See you soon."

Likewise, when someone expresses a need to exit the conversation, respect their needs and avoid prolonging the conversation.

7. Pay attention to your body language and facial expressions.

Show your interest and engagement in a conversation with a relaxed posture and eye contact or by leaning forward.

Practice pausing and being mindful of what the other person may be expressed through their body language or what your body language might be signaling them.

Use this information in conjunction with their words to get a fuller understanding of what they are communicating. 

8. Keep physical proximity.

Keeping a physical distance of about three feet apart is normally expected in most Western cultures, with hands and body parts kept to yourself. Consent would be expected for any closer distance or contact, especially given the current Covid pandemic concerns.

Some people are highly sensitive to touch and/or can find hugs, for example, to be uncomfortable or painful. If that's you, don't feel pressured to engage in any interaction that would cause you discomfort.

9. Pay attention to volume.

How loud are people speaking? Are you speaking louder or quieter than the people around you? Can you hear yourself? Are you inside or outside?

Practice paying attention to your tone of voice as well. Find a buddy who can remind you to reflect on your volume or tone with a subtle, pre-arranged cue.

10. Notice movement.

Certain body movements might be noticeably distracting to others at times. If you're comfortable with it and feel it would be beneficial, you can let people know that your body may do things that you are unaware of, are out of your control, or that helps you self-regulate.

You can make it clear that the movements are not about them. Remember to offer yourself some compassion if you notice yourself feeling insecure by reactions from others.

Some neurodivergent people might prefer more direct communication.

Others might prefer communicating through art or story. Many prefer social opportunities where they aren't pressured to make eye contact or sit still, or where they can easily take breaks and then join back in the conversation.

Just because neurodivergent people might approach social communication differently than a neurotypical person would, doesn't mean one approach is preferable over the other.

There are two types of communication: verbal and non-verbal.

Verbal communication has to do with words you use to explicitly communicate an idea. Non-verbal communication is what you implicitly express through specific behaviors, body language, and demeanor.

Verbal communication can be difficult enough on its own, but when you also need to track non-verbal queues, like posture, tone, and physical proximity, social interactions can feel overwhelmingly hard.

Successful communication involves appropriate verbal and non-verbal communication tools. 

Becoming a strong and empathic communicator can take practice. So, be kind to yourself. Remember, any fumbling and stumbling are part of the learning process, not a character flaw.

RELATED: 3 Ways To Stop Feeling Awkward At Social Events (& Make New Friends)

Sharon Saline, Psy.D., is an international lecturer and workshop facilitator and has focused her work on ADHD, anxiety, learning differences, and mental health challenges and their impact on school and family dynamics for over 30 years. For more information, visit her website.

This article was originally published at Reprinted with permission from the author.