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Inattentively Rude

Sometimes people are intentionally rude. Other times, they’re inattentively rude.

Those of us with ADHD are likely to find ourselves in the latter category more often than we’d prefer. There are a variety of ways inattentive symptoms can lead us to being rude without intending to.

An example that I’ve talked about before on this blog is not listening to others. We zone out when people are talking, and those people are understandably disappointed when they find that they might as well have been talking to a brick wall.

RudeA related, more specific way of being inattentively rude is by not responding when other people greet us or say something to us. Not because we’re snubbing them, but because we simply aren’t paying attention and don’t realize anyone has said anything to us.

Then there’s the forgetting. Forgetting people’s names. Forgetting their birthdays. Forgetting commitments. Forgetting to do things we said we would. Forgetting leads to a whole collection of inattentively rude behaviors.

So far, I’ve listed ways of being inattentively rude that are passive – not listening, not remembering to do things. But there are active ways of being inattentively rude as well.

One is by saying something inappropriate without realizing it’s inappropriate until you’ve already said it. This type of rudeness comes from speaking on autopilot and saying things that pop into your head without doing the necessary filtering between your brain and your mouth. In other words, it comes from talking without thinking.

A similar type of inattentive rudeness is interrupting. Once again, the problem here is speaking impulsively without exercising appropriate self-control. In a way, maybe it’s more accurate to call these active types of inattentive rudeness impulsive rudeness, although it’s hard to say where the dividing line is between impulsive behaviors and inattentive ones.

All of these types of inattentive (or impulsive) rudeness can lead to frustration and misunderstandings. In some cases, they can even make people think we’re being intentionally rude, or at least that the inattentive rudeness is coming from a place of not caring.

So what can people with ADHD do about these problems? There’s no perfect solution, but two things can help.

The first is being aware of whether you tend to exhibit some of these behaviors. To some extent, awareness can help you come up with strategies for dealing with these behaviors. For example, if you know you tend to forget things you’re supposed to do, see if you can find a system of reminders that keeps you on track.

The other thing, though, is to accept that you won’t be able to eliminate your inattentively rude behaviors entirely. That’s OK. As people get to know you, they will generally start to see that these behaviors are simply a part of how your brain works and aren’t a reflection on how you see them personally. Explaining this to people can help accelerate this understanding. Ultimately, inattentive behaviors can cause misunderstandings, but there’s still plenty of room for building fulfilling relationships.

Image: Flickr/Joe Loong

Inattentively Rude

Neil Petersen

Neil Petersen writes regularly on education, learning disabilities and technology. He received his B.A. in 2014 and was diagnosed with ADHD at the beginning of his college studies. Neil also works for a music education non-profit and hopes to help create an education system that can better serve students with ADHD.

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APA Reference
Petersen, N. (2018). Inattentively Rude. Psych Central. Retrieved on July 7, 2020, from


Last updated: 23 May 2018
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