Skip to content

Talking impulsively may be a symptom of ADHD, but there are ways to keep your tongue in check and avoid embarrassing gaffes.

Use the 'Traffic Light' System

With ADHD, it can be hard to pick up on social cues. So you have to make an extra effort to figure out what's going on in your head and around you before you speak.

First, says Teri Wright, PhD, a psychologist in Santa Cruz, Calif., use a traffic light system.

Here's how it works. When you arrive at a party or enter a meeting, do a quick check of your state of mind to see if you're relaxed or overcharged.

"If you're relaxed, that's a green light. Yellow means you feel a bit wound up. When red lights flash, you know you really have to watch your mouth," says Wright.

The traffic light system is a quick and helpful reminder to take care and wait your turn.

Other tips for entering a conversation:

  • Don't cannonball into the conversation. Instead, mentally rehearse what you want to say. If you can, jot it down.
  • When you do talk, Wright says, "speak slow and low."
  • Check yourself before stepping too close into someone's personal space. That's a big turnoff.

Do Some Role Playing

UCLA psychologist Elizabeth Laugeson, PsyD, says role playing helps improve social skills, too.

"Before entering a conversation, you have to watch and listen, and figure out what it's about," she says. "Because that's not always intuitive for someone with ADHD, it really helps to see it rehearsed and then practice it."

You can do this with a good therapist or ADHD coach, she says, and you can try it at home.

If you're married, "your spouse can be incredibly helpful, as long as both of you are motivated to work together. After all, who knows you better? Who can give better feedback?" Laugeson says.

Practice 'Two-Way' Conversations

Laugeson recommends that you practice conversation as a way of trading information. This is especially important for people with ADHD who tend to do all the talking.

"Look for common interests," she says. "That should be your goal."

That way, talk moves two ways, with each of you asking and answering questions.

"It makes it a more interesting conversation for both people," she says. "It should not be all about what you want to talk about."

And by keeping the conversation on-topic, you're less likely to blurt out personal information you might later regret sharing.