Winston Churchill purportedly once said: “a fanatic is someone who won’t change their mind, yet they can’t change the subject.”

People with ADHD may avoid tough conversations at all costs because it often feels like a battlefield when they try to make their point. What do you do when you anticipate conflict in a conversation or the conversation is riddled with tension?

Before I answer that question, I hope we can all agree that if this feels like an issue, it means you probably have fanatical moments from time to time. I have. I’ll wager Churchill did. And when that happens, I, for one, walk away from the interaction, hurt and frustrated.

The press would have us believe that no other type of conversation around difficult issues is possible these days.

I disagree.

Here are seven ground rules I’ve picked up over the years that work well:

  1. An argument is not the occasion to solve a problem: It is a platform that allows us to air our feelings about a perceived issue or conflict with someone and vice versa.

  2. If one person thinks there is a problem, there is a problem: Arguing that a problem doesn’t exist only creates an additional one.

  3. No one can make us feel…. we feel a certain way in response to certain behaviors. “When you talk over me, I get very upset” presents a problem you’re having and leaves an opening for a constructive resolution to it. “You really upset me when you talk over me like that” starts a blame game, not a conversation.

  4. The past must not enter the present conversation: When someone presents a problem they currently have with your behavior, countering with a problem you have had with them in the past, even the recent past, is combative, not conversational.

  5. Make a point of walking in their shoes: “I can understand how being interrupted is frustrating…” not: “I don’t know how else to make you understand….” The latter is problematic on (at least) two fronts: A) it presumes we have the power to make anyone do anything, and B) it displays a stunning and alienating lack of empathy for the other person.

  6. Say AND, not BUT: “I can understand how being interrupted is frustrating, BUT I don’t know how else to make you understand.” Anything that follows a BUT will be an excuse for bad behavior or flawed thinking. “I can understand how being interrupted is frustrating, AND I don’t know how else to get my point across” is an invitation to innovation.

  7. Be willing to end a conversation without a resolution: This doesn’t mean ‘agreeing to disagree.’ Disagreement is a given for which no agreement is required. Ending a conversation without a resolution means being able to say, “Let’s table this for now and talk about it later” Often, resolutions come after a period of unconscious gestation. An agreed-upon time-out allows us to consider what the other has said. This can only happen when finding a solution is no longer a zero-sum game.

    The next time you find yourself in a difficult conversation, try changing the steps to the dance with these guidelines. Then, see if you can replace any defensiveness with curiosity toward seeing how that experiment goes….