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5 Conversation Challenges with ADHD — and Tips for Better Communication

Reading time | 4 mins

People with ADHD are interesting conversationalists. Talking with us is like going through turbulence on a plane. There’ll be ups and downs, diversions, and confusion about where we’re going. But we’ll get there safely. And it’ll be a fun ride!

My job requires me to have meetings and conversations every day with ADHD. Here’s a list of the most common ADHD communication struggles I experience and the solutions I use to overcome them.

Forgetting to make eye contact

This is my kryptonite. Something on TV diverts my attention during an important conversation. My eyes dart. It’s a true test of distractedness.

I might be fully invested, interested, and listening. I’m excited and anxious to contribute to the conversation. My ADHD causes me to lose focus and my eyes impulsively scan the room.

I know that eye contact allows for more meaningful conversations, and studies have explored it’s effect on communication. Looking someone in the eye tells them that you’re focused and paying attention.

Yet my eyes can’t stay still.

Solution: Consciously focus on eye contact

Remind yourself at the beginning of every conversation to hold eye contact. Position yourself so you won’t be distracted and try and mirror the person’s body language.

Strive for small improvements with every conversation. Baby steps make a huge difference over time.

Blurting out or interrupting

I owe a lot of high school teachers an apology for this one. I constantly interrupted class and got detention for it.

I thought I just had an energetic personality and needed to shout out my thoughts. But then I received a late ADHD diagnosis in my 20s.

Interrupting others is a quintessential characteristic of ADHD. Go figure.

I’m never trying to be rude and most of the time interrupting is just an impulse. It happens right as something pops into my head and I feel like I need to share my thought before the topic changes.

I also know that interrupting sometimes isn’t OK. Even if it’s not meant to be disrespectful.

Solution: Practice active listening

Constantly remind yourself to not interrupt. No matter how excited you get.

Try to listen instead of focusing on what you want to say. Active listening means you’re engaging and processing another person’s words.

One trick that I find helpful is to repeat back what the other person says. Make a shortened summary using your own words.

Apologize if you start to interrupt and catch yourself doing it. Apologies can go a long way.

Daydreaming and spacing out

We’ve all been there. Someone’s telling a story when a shiny red car drives by. It reminds you of your grandfather’s old convertible. Which reminds you of your hometown. Which reminds you of your elementary school. Which reminds you of a TV show you watched as a child.

Meanwhile your friend has been waiting for a response for 10 seconds. You completely missed the story. You’re frozen and you don’t know what to do or say.

Zoning out happens to the best of us.

Solution: Write it down

I often zone out because an idea popped into my head. I simply can’t focus on a conversation no matter how hard I try, but I need to put the thought out of my mind for a moment.

I pull out a notepad, write it down, and let it go. Getting an idea onto paper enables me to listen to my friend or colleague.

Hyperfocusing on a single task

Hyperfocus can be a unique perk of having ADHD. You can drown out the noise of the rest of the world, home in on a single task, and be incredibly productive!

This can also make multitasking impossible. Which in turn can also be a problem when someone is talking to you. Sometimes, you’re just too focused on your work to stop and listen.

All you were trying to do was get a task done but you may have seemed rude and discourteous.

Solution: Learn what triggers your hyperfocus

Learn what immerses you in a task. That way you can safely take a moment to talk because you won’t fear that you can’t get back on track.

It’s also always OK to politely ask if you can talk after you’re done with whatever you’re doing.

Speaking too quickly

I used to be an avid YouTuber. Many comments I received were on the lines of “Good stuff, but slow down!”

Friends frequently tell me that I speak quickly and that they can’t keep up. I’ve found that talking fast and excessively tends to be a common issue for people I know who live with ADHD.

Solution: Take your time

Take a deep breath before speaking. It can help calm your mind and slow down your talking speed.

Try to over-pronounce your consonants to increase the overall clarity of your speech. Doing so forces you to stop at each syllable.

Speak slower than you think is normal. Slow-motion is likely to be normal speed for people who don’t live with ADHD. Practice by yourself so you’re naturally slower in real conversations.

I have no doubts that my ADHD makes me a fairly interesting conversationalist. I love talking with people and am always excited to make new friends and acquaintances.

However, this love of communication comes with many struggles that I’m working to overcome. Slow and steady improvements give me hope that someday I’ll conquer my communication barriers!

For more information on how to manage ADHD, reach out to your doctor or healthcare team. 

Sources

NPS-US-NP-00498 DECEMBER 2019