Mastering Small Talk: Social Strategies for ADHD Adults

Five ways for attention-deficit adults to feel more confident and comfortable at overwhelming social functions.


Filed Under: ADHD Social Skills, Travel and Vacation Tips, ADHD and Anxiety
How adults with attention deficit disorder can learn to socialize at holiday parties and get-togethers. Rainer Holz/zefa/Corbis; Photographer: Rainer Holz

Being a good listener is essential to social success.

Sarah, an adult with attention deficit disorder (ADD ADHD), like many clients I work with, feels that socializing is anything but fun.

“It’s work,” she says. “And hard work at that!” Sarah dreads many of the parties, family dinners, and business functions during the summer and the holidays.

“I never know what to say, especially with people I don’t know that well,” she adds. “Any way you look at it, I’m in trouble when I go to a party.”

Sarah jumps from topic to topic in a conversation, and doesn’t listen effectively to the person she’s talking with. I worked with her to develop strategies that would make her feel comfortable the next time she heads out.

Play Three Questions

Being a good listener is essential to social success. Next time you’re engaged in conversation at a party, ask the person three questions about what he said before changing the topic.

For example, if your conversation mate just got back from a vacation in the Greek islands, you might ask, “What was the highlight of your trip?” “Which island was your favorite?” and “Would you ever want to go back?” This approach makes others feel that you’re really listening.

Choose Hot Topics

To meet with social success, your conversation should be relevant. Some ADDers select topics that others see as random.

Before heading to a social function, glance at a news website for a quick update on current events. The first two paragraphs of any story will give you the facts you’ll need. You can also pick up some news on the radio while driving to the get-together. If you can talk about three topics, you’ll have plenty to say.

Look for Whatzits

What are Whatzits? Items a person is wearing or carrying that make you want to approach him and ask, “What is it?” It could be an interesting piece of jewelry or a quote on a name tag; it could be an unusual tie, watch, or a T-shirt with something clever on the front or back of it. Be on the lookout for Whatzits — and make it tempting for others to approach you by wearing a Whatzit yourself.

Play Copy Cat

According to How to Make People Like You in 90 Seconds or Less, by Nicholas Boothman (Workman), mirroring the person you are talking with creates a bond. People tend to like people who seem similar to them, so copying someone’s body language may help forge a connection. If they lean forward, you lean forward. If they shift to the side, you shift to the same side. Do this at the start of a conversation or when you feel you are losing your connection. Be subtle and selective when mirroring, or this approach will backfire.

Count Your Strengths

Get into a positive mindset before heading off to a party by naming three reasons why someone will enjoy being with you. OK, I know. Listing three strengths is more difficult than listing three pages of shortcomings, but you know you have many good qualities. Just take the time to look.

For instance, you can remind yourself that you are a kind person, that you genuinely like to help people, and that you have a great sense of humor. If you don’t see your own strengths, it makes it difficult for others to see them.



This article comes from the December/January 2008 issue of ADDitude.

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