Pay Attention: Talking on the Phone with ADHD

It's hard enough paying attention when you have attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADD/ADHD). Talking on the phone can be even more challenging but here are some tips that will help you stay in touch without getting distracted.

Give Better Phone © istockphoto/peepo

EZ Ways to Stay in Touch

Use e-mail and text messaging to keep up with friends, especially if you have an auditory processing disorder or you are comfortable with typing. A friend of mine leaves a message on her voice mail, saying that the best way to reach her is through e-mail, and slowly giving her e-mail address.

Facebook and MySpace are popular ways to stay in touch. You can share videos, photos, and messages with several people at once. Setting up an account is easy and free.

My personal preference is to send a greeting card. I write “Miss You” or “Big Hugs” and sign my name. Done.


Many of us have trouble paying attention in a face-to-face conversation. Talking on the phone can be more challenging. Here are some comments from ADDitude readers: “I can never get the right words out.” “I can’t see the response of the other person when I’m talking.” “I find my attention drifting.” “I never pick up.”

And when we don’t return calls -- because we forgot or put them off -- we expect the other person to be angry when we finally do. So we procrastinate even more. From my experience, the caller will be glad to hear from you.

Short of unplugging the phone or embracing the Amish practice of “circle letters” -- write a letter, send it to a friend, who passes it on to another friend -- there are communication strategies for taking the fear and loathing out of talking on the phone. I talked with clients about their conversation challenges and came up with solutions:

“I can’t focus on the caller’s words.”

Try pacing back and forth as you talk, to sharpen your attention. Eliminating distractions -- turn off the TV or take the call someplace that is away from your computer -- can help, too. Avoid multitasking while you are on the phone, unless you are doing an activity that is simple and familiar, like making a pot of coffee. Any task that is complex will cause you to lose track of the conversation.

“I don’t always say the right things.”

Not every conversation has to be brilliant or compelling. Talking about the little things that happened during the day will establish a connection with the caller. Start the conversation with “Hi, how was your day?” or “What have you been up to?” Other conversation starters: asking about a pet or a mutual friend. If you sometimes get brain freeze on the phone, jot down talking points before making the call.

“I talk on and on.”

Think of the purpose of the call before you call anyone, and you’ll be less likely to ramble. If you need to rebook an appointment, say, “Hi, my name is Sandy, and I need to rebook an appointment.” Don’t say, “Hi, I missed my appointment because my dog got sick…and then…so I need to rebook my appointment.” A short script can help in these cases.

“A ringing phone pulls me off task.”

Limit the number of calls you receive. Call the phone company and ask them to remove your number from the phone book and operator information. Give your number to a few close friends and family, and your e-mail address to everyone else. Also, sign up for the Do Not Call Registry ( to eliminate calls from telemarketers. You can request this free service for landline and cell phones.

This article appears in the Spring 2010 issue of ADDitude.

To read this issue of ADDitude in full, buy the back issue.

TAGS: ADHD Social Skills, ADHD Coaching

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