guest blog by Ari Tuckman, PsyD, MBA
Since we can’t see inside other people’s heads, we have to make the best guesses we can based on what we see. This leaves a lot of room for error, especially because we all tend to assume that other people do things the same way we do. Undiagnosed and untreated ADHD very much lends itself to this kind of misinterpretation. I sometimes say that ADHD is a disorder of actualizing good intentions or of turning your intentions reliably into actions. Therefore, you may need to work a little bit harder to ensure that people are clear about your intentions, especially when your actions might suggest otherwise.
When you can, it’s even better to set things up ahead of time, before anyone gets the wrong idea. This is where expectation management comes in—that is, actively managing the expectations that other people have of you, telling them what they should and shouldn’t expect you to do. Because ADHD affects an adult’s ability to consistently do what others expect, expectation management is an especially important skill to develop.
For example, if you tend to run late, you may want to tell a new friend, “I’m really bad at getting places on time. I try to, but I still tend to run late a lot more than I would like. So if I’m late getting to the restaurant, just call me and I’ll tell you when I’ll get there. Better yet, call me before you leave to make sure that I’m not running too far behind. If I’m really late, order an appetizer and it’s on me.” This way the friend doesn’t expect you to be on time and then get resentful when you’re not.
This doesn’t mean that you get a free pass whenever you tell someone that you’re not good at something. Most people probably won’t go for that one-sided arrangement. Rather, expectation management has the goal of preventing bad feelings, misinterpretations, and resentment.
We all make our own choices in life. It isn’t your job to be perfect for anyone or to make choices for others. However, by being clear about what you do and what the other person can do in response, you are both in a better position to be happy in the friendship.
Be open to fair criticism
Friendships should have more good moments than bad, but conflict, anger, frustration, and disappointment are an inherent part of relationships. So the challenge is to find a way to deal with these other emotions in a manner that doesn’t interfere too much with enjoying the good parts of the relationship.
If your goal is to have a strong friendship that lasts over time, then you need to be able to be honest with each other. This means not just the good news, compliments, and things that you agree on, but also the bad news, criticisms, and disagreements. You may not always like what you hear, but it may be good to hear it.
We all blow it sometimes. If you have ADHD, especially if it's untreated, you probably feel as if you blow it a lot more than you wish. Fortunately, treatment can improve your batting average. For those other times, the ability to offer a good apology is a great skill to have. When you need to mend fences, remember to take the following steps:
• Admit what you did wrong, even if it wasn’t your intention.
• Recognize the impact on the other person.
• Say what you will (try to) do differently in the future.
• Make amends, if necessary.
You may not have complete control over your ability to do all the right things at the right times, but you do have the ability to fix things afterward. Remember that the hallmark of a good friendship is resilience—the ability to rebound from trouble spots. We’re judged only partly by our actions, but mostly by our intentions. A good apology may not change the action, but it can reveal the intention.
This post originally appeared in Attention magazine. Join CHADD and receive every issue!
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A clinical psychologist based in West Chester, Pennsylvania, Ari Tuckman, PsyD, MBA, specializes in diagnosing and treating children, teens, and adults with ADHD. He is the author of More Attention, Less Deficit: Success Strategies for Adults with ADHD (Specialty Press, 2009) and Integrative Treatment for Adult ADHD (New Harbinger, 2007). He is a member of the CHADD board of directors.