Communication Hacks for ADHD

Sometimes it can feel like attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) hijacks your conversations. Maybe you interrupt people without thinking about it. Or you don’t pay close attention and miss important details, like where you’re supposed to meet friends.

This is because people with ADHD often have issues with executive function. That’s kind of like your brain’s manager. It’s responsible for sorting through the information in everyday life, like organizing your thoughts in the middle of a fast-paced conversation.

You can do a few things to address some of the common communication problems ADHD can cause.

Talking Too Much

Maybe you sometimes hog the conversation, especially if you’re passionate about the topic. You probably don’t realize you’re doing it -- but it can be annoying to others.

Solution: Ask questions. Train yourself to ask questions after you say a couple of sentences to let the other person have their say, too. Silently repeat what’s said to you to keep your focus on listening rather than talking.

Forgetfulness

You may not remember what you were going to say or what someone else said during important conversations.

Solution: Take notes. Jot things down ahead of time so you remember what to say or ask. During the talk, take notes or ask the other person if it’s OK to use your phone to record the conversation.

Interrupting

You may do this because you’re afraid of forgetting something important you want to say, but other people may think you’re rude.

Solution: Be aware of how much you do it. Count how many times you interrupt in a meeting or in a normal conversation. Set a goal not to do it more than a certain number of times. Other things to try:

  • If you feel like you’re overwhelmed during a conversation, breathe in slowly and fully exhale.
  • Mentally rehearse not interrupting.
  • If you catch yourself interrupting, own up to it. Say, “I’m sorry to interrupt. What were you going to say?”

 

Finding the Right Words

The words you want to say are in your brain, but you can’t drag them out of your mind’s filing system. Sometimes you may simply choose the wrong word. That can cause misunderstandings.

Solution: Talk later. Take a few deep breaths and try to organize your thoughts. If the right words don’t come to you, get back to the person later. If you’re not sure they understood what you said, ask them to repeat back what they heard.

Continued

Going Off-Topic

You’re talking to your mom and sister about your son’s stellar report card. You notice a snazzy sports car out your front window, and suddenly you’re talking about your dream car. Mom and sis are confused by your sudden shift in topic.

Solution: Use a “secret code.” Ask a close friend or partner to signal you so you’ll know if you stray from the topic of the conversation. This might be something subtle like tapping on your foot.

Zoning Out

You may get distracted and, before you know it, you’re not listening. Even if it’s just for a minute, you can miss important information or the point of the conversation. Others may think you’re bored or purposely not listening.

Solution: Make eye contact. This can keep you focused on the discussion and help you read nonverbal communication cues like facial expressions. Try to have conversations in quiet places that are free of distractions.

Listening in Groups

Shifting your focus from speaker to speaker can be a challenge. You might not feel like you fit in and feel anxious. You may avoid social gatherings like parties altogether.

Solution: Practice. Ask two or three good friends to help you practice listening and talking in a group setting. As you get more confident, add more people.

Long Conversations

Perhaps ADHD makes it hard to process long chunks of conversation. For example, long talks over coffee may not be the best setting for you.

Solution: Set yourself up for success. Suggest an activity where conversations happen in shorter chunks. Maybe go shoe shopping or jog together.

WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by Neha Pathak, MD on March 07, 2018

Sources

SOURCES:

The ADD Resource Center: “The Effects of ADHD on Communication.”

Understood: “My Child Talks Non-Stop. What Can I Do?”

Bailey E, Haupt D, MD. The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Adult ADHD, the Penguin Group, 2010.

ADHD Coaches Association: “Blurting Out Is Like Brain Burping.”

Children and Adults with Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (CHADD): “Social Skills in Adults with ADHD.”

Elizabeth Nilsen, PhD, associate professor and associate chairwoman, graduate studies, department of psychology, University of Waterloo, Ontario.

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