Conversational Difficulties for ADHD Adults


"I'm 42, single, have no children, and live alone. Because I have had difficulty with conversations most of my life, I am shunned by family members and co-workers. What can I do?"


ADDitude Answers

Sometimes it is not what we say, but the way we say it that matters most. Personally I would prefer a world where being right was all that mattered, but that isn't the world we live in. From your email, it seems like you need to refine the art of social interaction. It also sounds like you don't know what social errors you are making, so you don't know how to improve.

I recommend that you consider using the Social Skill Checklist in the back of What Does Everybody Else Know that I Don't? (Specialty Press, 1999). You can fill out the checklist and ask others to also fill out the checklists to help identify your social strengths and areas that need improvement. The checklist should provide a safe manner of obtaining feedback that others might not usually give.

Another strategy is to ask others directly what you could do to improve your conversations and social interactions. Common ADHD social errors can include:

  • interrupting
  • talking too much
  • talking too fast
  • going off track
  • not paying attention
  • not maintaining balance in relationships
  • impulsively blurting out words that would be better left unsaid
  • not being reliable, and
  • inappropriate body language.

Once you have identified the social errors you are making, you will be able to work on learning different methods of interacting that facilitate connection rather than alienation. You may find help learning the new skills through reading the book, through coaching sessions, or with a therapist trained in social skill acquisition for those with ADHD. Fortunately, there are specific skills that you can learn to improve the social connections in your life!

Posted by Michele Novotni, Ph.D.
Author of What Does Everybody Else Know That I Don't?

ADDitude Answers

It may be a matter of trying to match your energy level to those you are with at a given time. Not to change who you are or put up a false facade, but just to make those you’re socializing with comfortable too.

I am very shy and introverted (huge social anxiety). I am on edge to begin with, so it’s easy to get overwhelmed. Just to give you a sense of what others could be feeling if you are very energetic all the time.

Here are some great tips for social issues caused by ADHD:

> Foot In Your Mouth?

> Clue in to Cues to Avoid Social Slip-Ups

> What Our Blurts Betray About Us

Posted by Penny Williams
ADDconnect Moderator, Author on Parenting ADHD, Mom to teen boy with ADHD, LDs, and autism

A Reader Answers

I interrupt a lot. It isn’t a problem when I am talking to other ADHD people who also interrupt. For those without ADHD, it grates on their nerves.

I have had it be an issue at work once with a particular person.

You can try to monitor yourself all the time, but that really isn’t the solution. I have tried to keep from interrupting by being careful, but I often forget. Medication made a huge difference in this area for me. I have a great deal more patience for waiting in lines and waiting my turn to speak—although I will still forget what I wanted to say when it is my turn.

Maybe it would help to explain ADHD to people that you know, and that because of it sometimes you can’t stop yourself. I know that when I get excited about something or if I need something urgently, I interrupt. Others might be more forgiving if you tell them that’s why you do it. It’s not about being rude.

Posted by cakat01

A Reader Answers

I've had a problem in the past of interrupting others, especially at work. I also had a problem with getting mad when others interrupted me. I’ve learned to just stop talking and listen to them. Nine times out of ten they stop and ask"I’m sorry, what were you saying?” If not, I’ve learned it’s not worth getting mad about.

Getting mad just alienated me from others. Communicating effectively with people in your work and home life is vital to your well-being, though sometimes it seems completely not worth the trouble. We ADHDers are who we are, built how we are, we have to find ways to prosper in the world that work positively for us.

Unfortunately, there’s no easy fix. Meds help, therapy helps, coping skills help, but you have to do it yourself, and sometimes it sucks ‘cause it’s repetetive and difficult. When I was first working on this I’d remind myself that the heroes/heroines in movies were often the strong, mysterious silent types. They were too smart to show their cards until they did it on their own terms. So I pretended to be Bruce Willis in the Die Hard movies, or Al Pacino in The Godfather, watching and listening, looking (I hoped, anyway) like I didn’t need to prove myself because I had everything figured out.

Posted by Frank South

A Reader Answers

I haven’t always been super social, but somewhere in the last 8 or so years, that changed. I managed to find a few people like me, who understand me, and they are my rocks. I do go to parties and gatherings, and socialize, but in the past, I rarely made connections with those people.

The most important things I changed include: beginning medication, and also seeing a counselor who specializes in working with adults with ADHD. In working with my counselor, I figured out a lot about myself, who I wanted to be, how I wanted to act, and also what I needed to do.

Things have been going well over the last several years, but the biggest problem for me, is during a “roundtable” type situation. When in public, or if there are other distractions (television, someone’s cute dog, the wind chimes on the deck making noise), I can’t focus.

If I am with others, and they are talking, there’s a possibility of 3 things happening. On a great day, where I push myself, “excellent” conversation is had. Unfortunately, much of the time, I either get distracted (I tune out of the conversation, and have no response when someone asks me a question), or I take over the conversation with my stories.

This has been damaged relationships in the past. My counselor gave me some ideas. I implemented a reward system, no phone unless I participate in a conversation for “X” amount of time. I position myself relatively early with someone to chat, when I see an opening I can listen to and can participate in. I face them, have my back to tv’s, the exciting people and other distractions.

Sometimes when driving to an event, I think of what I want to and can, talk about, which has actually been a challenge, because I tend to be a “one-upper”, I feel my stories are way more exciting (so I’ve been told), so I try to pick a topic that I can stick to, and make everyone happy.

Most importantly, is the dinner table “cue.” When I am carrying on, interrupting, my now boyfriend, who also deals with ADHD, will give my knee a gentle squeeze under the table. It’s enough for me to notice I am going overboard, or getting too intense. Sometimes I don’t always get the cue, so I may get a second harder squeeze. It has honestly been a life saver, so simple, but really what works for me.

Additionally, I try to set up times to get together where I know everyone will have a good time and people like me can stay active. Maybe a pub with some sort of game or trivia. It’s enough to keep me busy, without coming off as rude.

Best of luck, and don’t give up.

Posted by LissaSaidWhat?

A Reader Answers

ADHD can often erode confidence, not always, but often. The issues you are having could stem simply from not being sure of yourself.

So I would start there. If you can build your sense of self the communications issues will improve dramatically. This may take a little time and it is very difficult to do alone.

If you can afford it, hiring someone good at this kind of work would be the best route. If you cannot afford a coach then you could work through the exercises in the well used book, Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway by Susan Jeffers. Jeffers makes us understand that everyone has fear. It’s no big deal; it just needs to be managed.

Posted by John Tucker, PhD, ACG. ADHD Coach

A Reader Answers

It is likely that you’ll find that many of your traits that irritate you or others are, at bottom, ADHD related. However, knowing this means you can tackle them and get them under control. There are medications for handling ADHD.

The most important thing to learn is how to interject a mental “pause.” This could be simply taking a deep breath. But that pause is essential. It lets you step back a moment and think before saying something. If you feel that something inappropriate is about to come out of your mouth but you feel compelled to say something, say “Let me think about that for a few minutes” or “Can I think about that and get back to you later?” or some sort of polite delaying tactic.

This also applies to texting and email except, in those cases, you don’t have to say anything. Simply decide never to reply ASAP to anything unless someone is bleeding profusely and needs help right away. Other than that, stop, pause, compose yourself, think…and then respond.

Posted by JeffsADDMind

A Reader Answers

Your problem with conversations could be a manifestation of ADHD-related impulsivity. It takes a bit of work, but you can learn to “hit your own pause button,” so to speak so that you can start to curb it a bit.

There are a few things you can do for verbal impulsivity also—like consciously holding your tongue right behind your front teeth when you feel the urge to blurt. It’s very hard to speak spontaneously when your tongue is pressing on the back of your teeth!

Posted by ADD_Coach_Lynne

This question was asked on the ADDConnect forums. Read the original discussion here.


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Dr. Michele Novotni is an internationally recognized expert in the field of ADHD. She is the former president and CEO of the national Attention Deficit Disorder Association (ADDA), an inspiring speaker, best selling author, psychologist, coach and parent of a young adult with AD/HD. She is the author of Adult AD/HD and What Does Everybody Else Know That I Don't?.

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