How to Tactfully Request Clarification When You Don’t Grasp What Someone Says.

Harold Robert Meyer /The ADD Resource Center 12/22/2023

Clear and effective communication is vital in both personal and professional settings. Misunderstandings can lead to confusion, frustration, and even conflicts. You demonstrate your commitment to understanding the other person’s perspective and ideas by asking for clarification. It shows that you are actively engaging in the conversation.
Knowing that you will be asking a question enhances your ability to listen and concentrate on what is said.
It also enhances your understanding skills. By seeking clarification, you can avoid making assumptions and ensure you are on the same page as the speaker. Remember, asking questions is a sign of intelligence and curiosity, not incompetence.
Knowing that you will be asking a question enhances your ability to listen and concentrate on what is said.

Understanding the challenges of ADHD and insecurity in communication
For individuals with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), communication challenges may be more pronounced. ADHD can affect a person’s ability to concentrate, process information, and follow conversations. This can lead to misunderstandings and difficulties in comprehending what others are saying. Additionally, insecurities about intelligence or fear of judgment can further hinder effective communication. Acknowledging these challenges and approaching communication with empathy and understanding is essential.
When you ask a question, make sure the questions are one at a time (stand-alone) and SHORT.
Listen not to respond but to understand. It is often difficult to do both together and takes much practice.
If you have ADHD or struggle with insecurities in communication, it’s important to be kind to yourself. Remember that your worth is not determined by how quickly you understand or respond to others. Recognize that seeking clarification is a strength, showing your commitment to effective communication. It can also save your employment. By acknowledging and accepting your challenges, you can work towards finding strategies that help you overcome them. Don’t be afraid to seek support from trusted friends, family, an ADHD coach from the ADD Resource Center (, or other professionals who can provide guidance and encouragement.
Remember that someone you speak with is not necessarily a good communicator, which may be part of the issue. Nothing is “All You.” Avoid thinking that everything wrong is somehow connected to you and everything good you do is attributable to another person. I can assure you that you did not cause global warming!
If appropriate (and accurate), thank the person for the clarification. Keep this SHORT and sweet.
Strategies for asking for clarification without feeling dumb
Asking for clarification doesn’t have to intimidate
or make you feel dumb. There are several strategies you can employ to ensure that you seek clarification in a confident and respectful manner:

  1. Active listening techniques for better understanding
    Active listening is a powerful tool for effective communication. You can better comprehend their message by fully engaging in the conversation and focusing on the speaker’s words. Avoid distractions and maintain eye contact to demonstrate your attentiveness. Take notes if necessary to help you remember key points. Paraphrase what the speaker said to confirm your understanding and show that you are actively listening. By using active listening techniques, you create a solid foundation for seeking clarification without feeling insecure.
  2. Non-verbal cues to indicate confusion or the need for clarification
    Non-verbal cues can be subtle yet effective ways to indicate that you need clarification. If you don’t understand something, you can use facial expressions such as furrowing your eyebrows or tilting your head to show confusion. Nodding your head can indicate that you are following along but need further explanation. Using non-verbal cues allows you to express your need for clarification without interrupting the speaker or feeling self-conscious about speaking up. If you are unsure of your ability to use verbal cues, try some while looking in the mirror. For additional tips, contact the ADD Resource Center at
  3. Using empathy to create a safe environment for asking questions
    Empathy plays a crucial role in creating a safe and supportive communication environment. Empathizing with the speaker demonstrates that you genuinely care about understanding their perspective. This encourages open dialogue and makes it easier to ask for clarification without fear of judgment. Put yourself in the speaker’s shoes and imagine how you would want someone to respond if you were in their position. By fostering empathy, you can build stronger connections and promote effective communication.
    How to rephrase a question to ensure clarity
    Rephrasing a question is an effective way to seek clarification without feeling dumb. Sometimes, the speaker’s choice of words or phrasing may be unclear to you. Instead of simply saying, “I don’t understand. Can you explain?” try rephrasing the question to highlight the specific area of confusion. For example, you could say, “I’m not sure I follow. Could you elaborate on how XYZ relates to ABC?” By rephrasing the question, you show that you are actively engaged in the conversation and genuinely interested in understanding the topic. This approach helps both you and the speaker communicate more effectively.
    Seeking clarification in different communication settings (work, social, etc.)
    The need for clarification arises in various communication settings, including work, social gatherings, and educational settings. Each setting may require different approaches to seeking clarification without feeling dumb. Here are some tips for seeking clarification in various communication settings:
  4. Work:
    ” Stay proactive: In a professional setting, it is important to seek clarification to ensure that you understand work-related tasks, instructions, or expectations. Be proactive by asking for clarification when something is unclear, as it demonstrates your commitment to excellence and avoids potential mistakes. Review what had been said and your assignment at the end of a meeting. After the meeting, review your notes again. If certain things are still not clear, clarify them immediately. Do not put your question aside.
    ” Use professional language: When asking for clarification at work, use clear and concise language appropriate for the professional setting. Avoid slang or jargon that may confuse the listener. By using professional language, you convey competence and professionalism.
  5. Social gatherings:
    ” Be open and curious: Social gatherings often involve discussions on various topics. If you encounter something you don’t understand, approach it with an open and curious mindset. Ask questions to understand better and show genuine interest in the conversation.
    ” Create a safe space: Social settings can sometimes be intimidating, especially when asking for clarification. Create a safe and non-judgmental environment by actively listening and encouraging open dialogue. This will help everyone feel comfortable asking questions and seeking clarification.
  6. Educational settings:
    ” Engage with the material: In educational settings, seeking clarification is essential for effective learning. Engage with the material by actively participating in discussions, taking notes, and asking questions when something is unclear. This demonstrates your commitment to learning and helps you grasp the subject matter more effectively.
    ” Utilize resources: Take advantage of resources such as textbooks, online forums, or office hours with instructors. If you are struggling with a concept, seek additional resources to gain a better understanding. Remember, asking for clarification is a sign of dedication to your education.
    • Overcoming the fear of appearing dumb when asking for clarification
      The fear of appearing dumb or incompetent when asking for clarification can be daunting. However, it is important to remember that seeking clarification is a sign of intelligence and a desire for effective communication. Here are some strategies to help you overcome this fear:
      Shift your mindset: Instead of viewing asking for clarification as a weakness, reframe it as a strength. Recognize that seeking clarification shows your commitment to understanding and improving communication. Embrace the opportunity to learn. Everyone has moments of confusion. Remember that your worth is not determined by your ability to understand everything immediately. Treat yourself with compassion and patience.
      Embrace vulnerability: Understand that vulnerability is an essential part of effective communication. It takes courage to admit that you don’t understand something and ask for clarification. Embrace vulnerability as a means of growth and connection.
      Conclusion: The power of seeking clarification and the benefits it brings
      Asking for clarification is a powerful tool that fosters effective communication and understanding. By overcoming the fear of appearing dumb and embracing the opportunity to seek clarification, you can enhance your personal and professional relationships. Remember, seeking clarification is not a sign of incompetence but a sign of intelligence and a commitment to effective communication. If you don’t seek clarification, there is a good chance you will say the wrong thing or interpret the situation incorrectly. (I have had people working for me who had spent hours on a document only to tell them it was not what I asked for.) Embrace the power of seeking clarification, and you will experience the benefits it brings to your life.
      Harold Robert Meyer /The ADD Resource Center 12/22/2023
      For more than 30 years, Harold and the ADD Resource Center have provided compassionate guidance, ADHD and Life coaching, and quality information to children, individuals, couples, and healthcare providers, demystifying and destigmatizing ADHD.

Harold Robert Meyer /The ADD Resource Center 12/22/2023


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