Asking for what you need without over-explaining.

How do you get people to understand ADHD and how it affects your needs?

I get asked this question a lot. Here’s a few ideas to help you agilize advocating for yourself in a gracious, undemanding, yet confident way.

After being diagnosed with ADHD at the age of 48, I went through a phase of trying to get people to understand what ADHD is and sharing with them how it explained so much of my whole life story. People’s responses ranged from

  • “ADHD isn’t real” to 
  • “ADHD is just an excuse – it’s BS.” to 
  • “You don’t have ADHD.  How could you?  You’ve accomplished so much.” to
  •  ”I could have told you that. My kid has it and I’ve always figured you might have it.” to 
  • “I have it too! No wonder we always got along so well” 

The reactions were quite mixed. But one thing became clear very quickly. Most people did not want to hear what I had learned about ADHD.  The bottom line is this:

Most people don’t want to understand ADHD.  And only a few really want to understand YOU in depth.  Most people only want to know precisely what you want or need from them.  


They want you to

    • get to the point
    • ask for what you need
    • let them say yes or no, and then 
    • accept their answer without trying to persuade them to change their mind. 

It became clear rather quickly that if I wanted people to listen to me, I had to get to the point.  People want you to clearly communicate what you NEED in specific terms rather than to try to get them to understand ADHD.  They don’t care about ADHD, they care about you and their relationship with you (hopefully.)

Even a lot of doctors simply don’t get ADHD and even they don’t want to take the time to understand your life and how it affects you.  Most people don’t want the details about your conditions, illnesses or even the reasons why you are asking them.  Better to not explain and only share details and reasons if  they ask.  

Example 1 – Being Late

If you are going to be late, or have to reschedule something, most of the time, people just want you to give them as much notice as you can and say something like:

“I’m going to be 20 minutes late.”  

and then ask them a relevant question like:

“Can you wait?”  or “Would you rather reschedule?”   

If they really want to know why, they will ask you. Most of the time, people just say “Thanks for letting me know.”   

Generally, the less you explain, the more respect and appreciation you get.  

Example 2 – Deadline Extension

“I need an extension on the deadline for ______.   Can you give me ___ days or weeks?”  

Pause and let them think about it and respond before you share any more details. Do whatever it takes to remain silent and let them think — even if you have to count to 100. 

They might just say “No problem.”  and you are done.  I was stunned when I first started practicing this that 90% of the time people have no problem with you asking for more time.  It’s the explanations (or excuses) that drive them crazy.  

Explaining Invites Judgement and Debate

When you explain it feels to people like you are asking them to approve of your reasons and / or needs. They then caught up in the details of your life and actually distracted from making a decision about whether or not they can accommodate you (e.g. give you more time, or reschedule, etc.)

Giving an explanation or justification is like inviting people to debate the validity of your needs with you. But in reality, most people in your life are not entitled to “approve” of your needs.  Your only obligation is to ASK respectfully for what you need or want – not to get their approval of the fact that you have a need or the reason why you have the need. Once you make a request, they are entitled to decide whether or not they will accommodate your need.

If they actually do feel like they are entitled to approve of your reason, wait for them to come right out and say so. But usually when people ask why, they are just being curious. In that case, give as vague an answer as you can.  Like -”something came up” or “I have a conflict.”   Make them work for details – there are very few people in life you “owe” details to. And if they are going to use your reasons to “judge” you – don’t give them ammunition. 

Once they inform you of their decision, remember that they don’t “owe” you an explanation either.  Only in a few cases, are you entitled to debate.  Generally, you are obliged to ACCEPT their answer or ASK to negotiate.     

RULE OF THUMB:  If you don’t want to get into a debate about your needs with people, ask for what you need, and then WAIT for an answer.  

Assume you are entitled to ask for what you need  – you don’t have explain why you need it.  Whether or not you have ADHD doesn’t really matter.  A need is a need – regardless of why you need it.  

But remember, whenever you ask, prepare yourself to hear either YES or NO – Don’t assume they’ll say no, but if they do, you may ask why once, but be ready to accept no for an answer or to negotiate an alternative that works for both of you.  

Just like you are entitled to ask, they are entitled to say no to your requests. 

Why do we explain?

Most of the time, we explain because we intend /  think / hope the person will be:

  • more “understanding” of us (which is another way of saying we want their “approval” or “acceptance”)
  • more likely to say “yes”
  • less annoyed by our inconveniencing them (which implies YOU have already a) judged yourself as being annoying or b) that your job in life is to avoid ever inconveniencing other people.)

But that is not usually the result we get.  By definition, if we are explaining to “be understood” we are assuming they either won’t, or don’t, understand.  And that assumption can feel annoying to people.  Most of us can’t articulate why we get annoyed when people over-explain, but in my experience, it gets down to that in our insecurity, we somehow project to people that we don’t trust them to be generous, or accepting or understanding.  We act as though we expect people to judge us and so we explain.  In the very act of explaining, we make it almost impossible for them NOT to judge us.  

Explaining puts them in the position of “judging” your needs.  It also gives the impression that you don’t trust the person to accommodate your request just because they are considerate.  

Explaining Often Backfires – The Unintended Consequences

When you explain, it’s as if you are already sure the person will say no and are trying to make it hard for them to say no. They feel the pressure and feel manipulated. And they don’t like it.  Our intention may be to provide information they need to make an informed choice, but here’s the thing. Intentions have little (or nothing) to do with the results of our actions and behaviors.  It’s the unintended consequences that come back and kick us in the butt.  

Just because we don’t intend to be late, doesn’t mean we aren’t late, right?  Same here. We don’t intend to annoy people with our explanations, but that is what they feel. Explaining before you make a request tends to result in people regarding you as either weak, insecure and needing their approval, or as being emotionally manipulative.  It opens the door and invites them to judge you.

Is that what you really want?  If not, ask for what you need and be ready for either a yes or no answer. If they say no, depending on the situation, you can:

  • accept it and suggest an alternative solution.
  • ask them why
  • ask them to suggest a compromise or alternative option
  • thank them for their consideration. 
  • consider opening up a negotiation discussion
  • if their refusal is not acceptable to you, you might consider letting them know the impact of their refusal on your relationship. But be careful about this. Don’t make threats you aren’t fully prepared to carry out.  If their lack of accommodation is a dealbreaker, they need to know that.   

What about if I need an unusual accommodation for ADHD?

When asking for accommodations, find ways to ask that don’t position you as “disabled” but instead as having unique needs.

For example:

Instead of saying  ”I have ADHD so that means I need _______ .”

It’s more effective to say things like:  

“When I’m super-focused on getting something done, I work best when I get into a flow state and lose track of time. To get the best work from me, could we work it out so that I have a flexible start and end time to accommodate my creative process?  I do my very best work that way and you won’t be disappointed in the quality.”  


NOTE:  If timing is more critical than quality, then it’s up to you to rethink your approach.  Maybe start earlier than you normally would, or set a timer.  Either way you need to agilize a way to do what you can in the time you have and manage expectations – theirs, and most of all, your own.  Sometimes, you need to accept that you will only have time to do your “relative best” – not your VERY BEST. 

Almost every boss or client I ever asked in this way said SURE.  I want your best work, if that’s what it takes, go for it.

Another example:

  ”I do better when you put requests in writing, it gives me time to think before I say yes..I don’t want to overcommit and disappoint you, could you help me out by putting your request in an email?”  

Again, the reaction is usually “No Problem.”  In fact, they often say, “Great Idea, that will help me be clearer about what I really want, too.”

Strategies like this make it hard to argue with your request – they stick to the real point, and gain you more respect.  People admire when you factually and clearly just ask for what you need without explaining too much why you need it. 

How might you experiment with this agile way of asking for accommodations to your unique needs?   

Dr. Sam Goldstein Video on Diagnosing and Treating ADHD, Autism, Attention Difficulties

I’m so grateful to You Tube for making it possible for us to see this eminent and enlightened neurologist speaking at a Psychotherapy conference in Romania!  And for FREE!  The full lecture is available below.  Watch it while you can.  My experience is that many of the best videos on You Tube get removed after a short time.  

A couple of my favorite quotes:

 ”Pills do not substitute for Skills”

In my life and with my clients, ADHD meds make it easier to learn skills and to USE the skills we have learned to develop new habits.

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Wholehearted Living is also Agile Living – It Starts with Courage to Release Shame, Embrace Vulnerability and Imperfection – Dr. Brene Brown

Dr. Brené Brown is a researcher professor at the University of Houston, Graduate College of Social Work, where she has spent the past ten years studying vulnerability, shame, courage, and whole-hearted living.   

Clients often ask me if there is a book or resource for learning more about what I teach regarding self-acceptance, self-respect, self-acknowledgment and self-compassion. Dr. Brené Brown’s work is among the best resources available today.  Below are resources from Dr. Brené Brown I wholeheartedly recommend.



Graphic SOURCE: From Dr. Brene Brown’s appearance on Super Soul Sunday

View Oprah’s Interviews with Dr. Brene Brown Online Here


Shame, Vulnerability, and Whole Hearted Living - Synopsis

Listening to Dr. Brené Brown speak and watching her on You Tube was so heartwarming, validating and affirming. In this video she poses the questions:

  • How do we engage in our lives from a place of authenticity and worthiness? 
  • How do we cultivate the courage, compassion, and connection that we need to embrace our imperfections and to recognize that we are enough — that we are worthy of love, belonging and joy?

VIEW:  TEDxHouston – Brené Brown 


The Price of Invulnerability - Talk Synopsis  

In our anxious world, we often protect ourselves by closing off parts of our lives that leave us feeling most vulnerable. Yet invulnerability has a price. When we knowingly or unknowingly numb ourselves to what we sense threatens us, we sacrifice an essential tool for navigating uncertain times — joy. This talk explores how and why fear and collective scarcity has profoundly dangerous consequences on how we live, love, parent, work and engage in relationships — and how simple acts can restore our sense of purpose and meaning.

VIEW: TEDxKC – Brené Brown  




In the spirit of giving and gratitude, my friend Indrani, the mastermind behind the non-profit organization Indrani’s Light, is giving away the recording of her inspiring teleseminar interview featuring author Dr. Brene Brown If you would like to be notified of future free “Chat and Chai” calls, please sign up here.

Here’s the link to download the MP3




Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead
Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way we Live, Love, Parent and Lead 


The Gifts of Imperfection: Let Go of Who You Think You're Supposed to Be and Embrace Who You Are I Thought It Was Just Me (but it isn't): Telling the Truth About Perfectionism, Inadequacy, and Power  
The Gifts of Imperfection: Let Go of Who You Think You’re Suppose to Be and Embrace Who You Are I Thought It Was Just Me (but it isn’t): Making the Journey from “What Will People Think?” to “I Am Enough”




Intensity – What makes intensely creative, emotional and gifted adults like Steve Jobs prone to troubling relationship issues?

I was truly dismayed to see someone as influential and talented as Steven Johnson, author of the brilliant book  Where Good Ideas Come From: The Natural History of Innovation say this about Steve Jobs:

“But for all his obnoxiousness with his colleagues…, Jobs had a rich collaborative streak as well. He was enough of an egomaniac to think of himself as another John Lennon, but he was always looking for McCartneys to go along for the ride with him.”


To me, this is an example of the kind of socially accepted intolerance, bias, and disparaging name-calling that creative, emotionally intense and gifted adults (and children) frequently experience their entire lives. Even though Mr. Johnson is intending to show the “other” side of Steve Jobs complex personality, it doesn’t excuse his perpetuating the portrayal of Steve as an “obnoxious egomaniac.”   Those are some powerfully degrading and hurtful words for such a respected author to be using as though they were mere objective facts and not defamatory or derogatory character slurs.  To me, those words are just offensive as any racist or sexist epithets.  

Yes.  Steve was emotionally intense.  Yes, he had a temper and SOME people felt bullied by him.  But he was so much more than that — he had many allies, supporters and people who overlooked his outbursts as being part of his intensity and found his intense convictions inspiring.  They didn’t take his emotional intensity personally and loved working with him.   

Intensity is one of the many forms of neurodiversity that are misunderstood, not tolerated and aggravated by our culture.  Unharnessed, emotional, intellectual and energetic intensity can feel overwhelming to people who are not intense.

 When people assume that other people are sharing the same experience in the same way, and at the same level of intensity, it’s so easy to assume they simply lack self- control.  In reality, it’s more like two people can be in a 70 degree room and to one it feel like 100 degrees and they are uncontrollably sweating and to another it can feel like 40 degrees and they could be having uncontrollable shivers and goose bumps.  Emotional intensity works similarly.   There is actually a biologically based neurochemical reason (one of which is dopamine levels) that literally and profoundly affect how intensely we feel emotionally in response to events.  For example, we might feel such a strong surge of emotion in response to a new idea that it’s not “controllable” though with practice we CAN learn how to change the way we respond to it.  But that requires advanced habit shaping and emotional intelligence skills that are rarely taught.

To the intense person, what seems like nothing to most people, for example, seeing a typo or mistake, can trigger such a strong emotional discomfort that it feels like being hit by a crashing wave.  In our culture, instead of recognizing that some people are just that way, we treat it as a mental illness, we invalidate the reality of what it feels like to live with this, or we make it a character defect.  When you really look at the situation deeply and objectively, you begin to see that it’s actually a need to learn skills.  Thankfully therapy is moving toward an educational model, but why do we still classify the learning as a “treatment” for a disorder?    

This fundamental variation in intensity is at the the root of many of our “differences” and when not recognized causes misunderstanding and over time can lead to such extreme frustration and anger that people become very abusive to each other.

Intense people themselves are usually unaware of how different their experience of life is from most people and their descriptions of how they feel are often not believed by others.  Consequently, instead of learning how to cope with intensity, it is invalidated and people try to repress it.  The repression leads to build up and eventually meltdowns, tantrums and other forms of emotional outbursts.   My intention with this article is not to “excuse” anyone’s rude behavior, but rather to move us forward in understanding so that we can find more productive ways to deal with our differences.  Like learning more about the ways people are different and how to resolve the inevitable conflict in respectful ways.  We have a culture where most people seek to avoid conflict or confrontation.  If we learned early on how to see conflict as an opportunity to learn to become more accepting of differences, more patient, more emotionally agile, mentally flexible and less certain that what we think is right, perhaps we wouldn’t have an epidemic of social anxiety and depression.  

Back to the article that inspired this article — I wonder if Mr. Johnson is familiar with the literature on giftedness and intensity and, if he were, would he still choose to use words like “egomaniac” so easily?

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Misdiagnosis and Dual Diagnoses of Gifted Children and Adults: ADHD, Bipolar, OCD, Asperger’s, Depression, and Other Disorders

Have you had multiple labels given to you by professionals? Do you love someone who has?

One of the well-kept secrets of the mental health community is that more than half and possibly up to 80% or more of the people who receive a diagnosis of ADHD, Bipolar, OCD, Asperger’s, PTSD, Depression, or a Learning Disorder are also gifted and multi-talented. Also, if you get any one of these diagnoses you are very like to get multiple diagnoses. They call this co-morbid or co-occuring conditions. They also may call you twice-exceptional.

 By definition, multiple diagnoses is a sign that we don’t really understand the full complexity of the underlying causes of human behavior. Is depression chemical? is it situational? is it reactionary? is it lifestyle? is it culture? is it the individual’s responsibility?

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Who are Outliers and What is Neurodiversity?

Since discovering my tribe of outliers like me, I will never be able to see myself the same way again. I’m more at peace today than I even knew was possible. The power of understanding that you are not defective, and you are not alone – that there is a group of people where everything you think is freaky about yourself is actually NORMAL can’t really be described in words. 

We are outliers.  We are neurodiverse – our brains and nervous systems are wired differently from the average or neurotypical brain. This does not mean we are disordered – it’s more like we pursue order differently. While others seek stability to create order, we need agility  to create order in our lives. We find order in the “dance” of life more so than in the stability or stillness of life.  In other words, routines tend to bore us much more easily than the average person.  When we see something we know could be better, we have a much harder time “looking the other way”  than the average person does. We are interested in exponentially more things than the average person.   

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My Story of Becoming Agile

I was one of those kids who learned to read at the age of 4 and spent many nights when I was supposed to be sleeping either under a blanket, or in a closet, with a flashlight reading.

Books were my favorite escape from the chaos of relentless domestic violence fueled by parents with drug and alcohol addictions.  Books were my connection to HOPE.  They gave me something to dream about and fueled my faith that there was a better way to live. Life could actually be peaceful…and I was determined to figure out how to make that happen, for myself and for others.

I was determined not to end up like my mother with 5 kids at 28 years old and already on her third of 6 marriages, on welfare and moving every few months because we couldn’t pay the rent or the landlord got tired of having the police show up at our apt.

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