Communication Tips for Adults with LDs

Starting a conversation

  • try to make eye contact first – if someone does not look back they may not wish to talk.
  • use common conversation-starters – the weather, a recent sporting event or world event.
  • start with a question, but not a personal one
  • avoid questions with Yes or No answers
  • if you know that you have some interest in common, ask a question about that topic.

Joining a conversation

  • look to see if there is a space between the people in the group that makes it easy for you to enter the conversation
  • try to catch the eye of someone in the group, especially if you know someone
  • ask if it is OK to join the conversation (in case it is a private conversation), e.g. “is it OK if I join you?” Watch for a hesitation in the response, which may indicate it is not appropriate for you to join – you could then say something like, “OK, sorry” and move on.
  • if you are invited to join, listen to the conversation for a while to try to understand what people are talking about

Continuing the conversation 

  • show that you are listening to what the other people are saying, by nodding, or saying ‘mmm hmm’, or reflecting back the feelings expressed (e.g. “I can see that made you sad/angry”)
  • wait until there is a break in the conversation, then ask if you may contribute, e.g. “do you mind if I comment?” or “I have an idea that I would like to contribute.”
  • try to make a comment or question that is related to what the previous speaker has been talking about
  • while it is best to avoid changing the subject, if you wish to do so, find a way to relate the new topic to what has just been said, e.g. “what you just said reminded me of …”.
  • try to notice when another person wants to say something and quickly end your train of thought

Ending the conversation

  • learn some phrases for ending a conversation so that you do not just leave abruptly, e.g. “It’s been nice talking to you, but I have to get going to …”
  • ending phrases should include something positive about the conversation and a reason for ending it
  • wait for a response before leaving

Common verbal communication errors 

  • dominating the conversation, without listening for others’ points of view
  • interrupting when someone hasn’t finished talking (try jotting down your thought so you won’t forget it)
  • talking too loudly for the setting
  • talking too fast, so that others can’t follow what you are saying
  • talking too softly
  • giving unsolicited advice
  • criticizing what others say
  • downplaying the impact of someone’s experience rather than supporting their feelings (even if you are just trying to make them feel better)

Nonverbal communication in conversations

  • face the person you are talking to
  • look at the person you are talking to and make eye contact
  • have relaxed posture, not too stiff
  • stand or sit a distance away from others that is appropriate in the culture. Most people are uncomfortable if others are too close (if unsure, watch groups of people talking to see what distance is typical). Notice if a person moves away and respect their space.

Understanding other people’s body language

  • watch for facial expressions to try and judge how the person is feeling
  • watch for signs of discomfort, e.g. looking at a watch, looking away frequently, squirming, fidgeting with an object
  • if you notice signs of discomfort, review common communication errors to see if you are making the person uncomfortable
  • watch for clues that the person wants to leave, e.g. gathering up belongings, edging towards the door.

Tips for interpreting subtext in conversations

  • don’t assume that the words spoken should be taken literally
  • look for body language or facial expression to see if it fits with what the person is saying, e.g. they say they are feeling great, but their posture and face indicate they are sad.
  • listen for tone of voice – learn to recognize a sarcastic tone, so that you know when someone means the opposite of what their words say, e.g. “That’s great” can be a positive or negative comment, depending on the speaker’s tone of voice.
  • Look at the words the person chooses in answering a question. See these possible responses to the question “Do you want to go to the movies tonight?” (adapted from Novotni’s book).
  • I’d love to – probably means yes (unless followed by but..)
  • I could – probably means they’d rather not but are willing to consider it
  • If you want to – they don’t really want to but will go along with the idea
  • Sure – depends on the tone of voice, how enthusiastic they sound
  • Maybe – they probably don’t really want to but are being polite
  • When someone invites you to join them, try to figure out if they are just being polite. If you are not sure, you could say something like ‘It’s OK” and see if they insist.  

Telephone conversations

  • When calling someone, ask, “do you have a minute to talk?” before starting your conversation. If they say ‘just a minute” you should keep the call short.
  • Avoid dinnertime, early morning or late evening calls, except in emergencies.
  • If you are called and it is a bad time for you, you can say “I’m afraid I can’t talk right now. Is there some time that I can call you back?” OR “can you call me back in … minutes?”

Workplace communication: learning about the unspoken rules and practices in your workplace 

  • Arrive early and notice what time other employees usually arrive.
  • Observe the work areas of others to see how they organize their desks, e.g. do they put up or display pictures of friends or family?
  • Notice how co-workers dress (if there is no uniform), and whether there are different dress codes on different days, e.g. casual Fridays, more formal dress when there are meetings in the office.
  • Ask if co-workers usually eat lunch in a lunchroom, or go out for lunch. Notice if most co-workers buy lunch or bring a lunch from home.
  • Observe whether co-workers chat from time to time while they work, or only talk at break times. There may be a formal rule about this.
  • If you are doing the same job as others, see how much productivity is standard. It is usually best try to match the pace of work of others – doing too much can lead to resentment of co-workers. However, you do have to meet the productivity requirements of the job.
  • Try to observe if there are unspoken expectations about socializing with people in other job levels — are you expected to stick together with workers who do your level of work, or is it a more open workplace socially? Can you take it literally when someone says “we’re all part of the team here?”
  • Are there expectations about leaving work at the end of your day or shift? If you have work to finish up can you stay longer or take work home? You may have to check with your supervisor, but you can also observe others.
  • Get a feel for which of your co-workers is happy to answer questions or show you how to do things, at least for a while when you are new. Try not to over-use these helpers. It may help to ask when would be a less busy time for them to give you some attention.
  • Listen for jargon or slang terms that are commonly used by your co-workers. If you do not understand a term, take someone aside and ask them to explain it to you.

Adapted by LDAO from a number of sources