ADHD and the Art of Conversation

Why ADHD Makes Conversations Difficult

Conversation is fundamental to our ability to build and maintain strong relationships. However, communication can be challenging for individuals with ADHD. They may interrupt too much, speak too rapidly, or zone out unintentionally during a conversation and miss important elements.

This can be due to the fact that people with ADHD often struggle with executive function issues. Our executive functioning helps us organize and prioritize the information we encounter in everyday life. It also helps direct our attention and keeps us focused. These skills are necessary to staying engaged in the middle of a fast-paced conversation.

In daily encounters with others, there is a general expectation that everyone knows the non-verbal cues, shared understandings and unwritten rules that help structure our social engagement. These assumptions make neurotypical individuals blind to the fact that some people with ADHD may not comprehend these basic rules of conversation. The anxiety that often accompanies ADHD may also impact social skills and make them doubt their ability to engage in natural, comfortable conversations.

Tips to Make Conversations Flow

Below are some of the tips and strategies recommended by experts for navigating conversations when you have ADHD.

Graceful entrances and exits – Ask to join conversations rather than just jumping in if it’s more than just you and one other person. And when it’s time to leave, rather than just leaving, let people know with a simple statement to the effect that you’ve enjoyed talking with them and hope to do so again.

Physical presence – Your physical proximity and speaking volume are important. Place yourself appropriately near others. Some people are naturally kind of touchy, but other people don’t like to be touched at all. Notice and copy the volume and expressiveness of those around you.

Engagement – If you find yourself starting to be distracted, make eye contact with the person speaking and / or watch their mouth. These two sensory inputs will help keep your attention from wandering.

Reflect what you’re hearing – Participate with reflective statements that show you’re listening. Show genuine curiosity about others’ experiences – ask questions and avoid making any judgments.

Be mindful of your environment – Individuals with ADHD can be sensitive to environmental noise, lights, or even smells. If you are trying to have a conversation in an environment where those sensitivities can be triggered, suggest to the other person that you move to a less distracting location.

Be honest – People with ADHD tend to interrupt others because they are afraid of forgetting their point. To navigate this potential problem, just be honest. Say that you have something to share that you don’t want to forget, yet you don’t want to interrupt. This puts the other person on alert as to why you need time to interject your thoughts before forgetting them. You don’t need to say anything about having ADHD. But you might mention that you’re easily forgetful. Alternatively,  just let yourself forget. There’s a good chance it will come to you later, in which case you can then call or email him or her.

Observe, practice and learn – Pay attention to how others handle conversations. This awareness of their distance, pacing and volume can help you develop your conversational skills. Also, practice conversations with someone you trust who can give you helpful and supportive feedback.

The art of conversation is something we all learn and refine throughout our lives. If you have ADHD, it may take additional work to feel comfortable with conversation, but it can be done. Being able to connect with others and navigate social situations with greater confidence can improve your relationships and quality of life.



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