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Unwittingly on the Offensive

Faux pas are inevitable until you learn the unspoken give-and-take that accompanies every conversation.

by Michele Novotni, Ph.D.

Mary's perspective

Last night I invited my friend, Lisa, to my house. When she arrived, I greeted her at the door and complimented her on her outfit. I tried to start several conversations, but Lisa didn't say much, and she left after only an hour. After Lisa was gone, I wondered what was wrong with her. Truthfully, I was a little angry about her rapid departure.

Lisa's perspective

I was pleased that my friend, Mary, invited me over for the evening, but when I got there, she said, "Hey, you don't look fat at all in that outfit!" I was mortified. My flushed face and sullen mood made it clear that she had hurt my feelings, so I wondered why Mary didn't say she was sorry. When she still hadn't apologized after an hour, I just decided to go home.

Lisa was the victim of the AD/HD equivalent of the 1-2 knockout punch.

  1. Mary said something hurtful, albeit unintentionally.
  2. And then she failed to notice her friend's nonverbal language, which would have indicated that she had committed a faux pas.

To complicate matters, it is generally regarded as impolite to point out social errors, so it is seldom done. Thus, the unintentional offender may never know that she did anything wrong. But imagine trying to learn math if no one ever told you when you had the right or the wrong answer. How could you?

Identify the signs

The first step is to look for clues that you may have committed a blunder. One client I worked with complained that his wife often got angry and left the room, slamming the door, without any warning. I asked Gary to look for clues that she was getting angry, to see what, if anything, led to the slamming-the-door stage. I was sure that she must have given some verbal or nonverbal indications that she was getting upset.

A week later, Gary returned, very excited. "Doc, you were right. I never noticed it before, but her eyes got squinty, her face got red. She clenched her teeth and pressed her lips together, and her voice got high-pitched. Then she left the room, slamming the door. It was great. I never actually saw her get angry before. I always thought she just slammed the door."

Thus, I had to work with Gary on changing or explaining his behavior to his wife while he still could. By the time she reached the slamming-the-door stage, she was usually no longer willing to talk or listen.

If Mary's or Gary's situations sound familiar, you, too, may be throwing those involuntary 1-2 punches. Use these strategies for reading the clues and smoothing out your interpersonal relationships:

Michele Novotni, Ph.D., is a best-selling author and international speaker in the area of adult AD/HD. She is a psychologist and coach in private practice in Wayne, Pennsylvania.

This article is published by permission from ADDitude Magazine 2004. All rights reserved. Reproduction in whole or in part is prohibited. Subscribe to ADDitude online or via toll-free phone 888-762-8475.

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