The Boring Back & Forth of Social Interactions: Advice from People with ADHD
Collected and edited by Cynthia Hammer, MSW, Executive Director of the Inattentive ADHD Coalition
Note: the following is a collection of perspectives from different people with ADHD. The * indicates another person’s input.
Social Interactions & ADHD: Why We Get Bored
*Small talk can be profoundly boring. The older you get, the more this is true. Truly, it is hard to find people who “match” in terms of what they find stimulating.
*Yesterday I talked with a friend who also has ADHD about how typical conversations go. One person says his whole monologue and then the other person says her whole monologue. The monologue-ing gets so boring it is hard for us to stay engaged.
We prefer conversations where people interrupt with interesting tidbits as this makes the conversation more engaging and exciting. Our preferred way of communicating is perfectly acceptable although there are settings where we need to reel in our enthusiasms and engage in more socially acceptable ways
*The more I work on conversation skills, the more I find the “take turns to dump” style grating, It’s hard to follow the conversation and contribute anything meaningful. My brain wanders off when I try to sit and wait my turn!
Talking Too Much
*Conversations are a bit like passing a ball from one person to another. It’s bad if you hold the ball and never pass it back. You don’t want to talk all the time or always talk about what you’re interested in. It’s also bad if the other person holds the ball and never passes it back because you don’t want the conversation to only be about the other person. You pass the ball to each other.
You let them “hold the ball” by asking genuine questions about the topic under discussion, even if it’s steering them towards your preferred topics. Then they will likely steer the conversation back to topics they prefer, and so on and so forth. The outcome would be bad only if your goal is to take the ball and never let it go.
Ideally, you end up landing on topics you both really want to talk about by tossing the ball back and forth. But even if this doesn’t happen, it’s still more interesting than just getting a monolog on a boring topic.
*Don’t let yourself talk for more than 30 seconds at a time. Outside of this, make your goal for conversation getting to know people.
*It helps to know when I’ve interrupted another person. Recognizing this comes with practice. If I catch myself soon enough, I stop speaking, apologize for interrupting and encourage the speaker to continue what he was saying.
If I can’t stop myself from speaking, and absolutely need to finish what I wanted to say, I make it brief, apologize for my interruption and return the conversation to what the other person was saying.
*Frankly, you have to suppress the urge to interrupt. Find a way to control your facial expressions and maintain eye contact. What I’m suggesting is just better masking, but it can be learned.
You either have to get better at being bored without others noticing while you engage in small talk OR find more interesting people that love topics that appeal to you. Sometimes you can’t have it both ways.
How to Not Bore Others
*Super short answers, a monotone voice, not smiling, not looking at you but glancing around the room are all potential indicators that the other person doesn’t want to keep talking to you.
*If you’re asking questions about things you genuinely find interesting, your conversational partner is probably going to feel that you’re interested in them and will like conversing with you.
*If you’re asking somebody about themselves or something they really care about, it’s safe to assume they’ll like talking to you. People LOVE talking about themselves and what is important to them. Unless they give you really short answers and sound unenthusiastic, you’re probably golden.
*If you zone out while someone is talking, and the person notices, apologize and ask them to repeat what they just said.
*If you’re asking questions, but the whole time you’re thinking “God, I’m so bored and I just want this person to shut up or talk about something that interests me,” they’re likely to pick up on the fact that you’d rather not be talking with them at all. You’ll come off as rather self-centered.
As for how people pick up on this stuff, it’s complicated. It’s your body language, your tone of voice, your face, the words you use. The same question can sound very different depending on how you phrase it and intone it.
“So, what’s your job like?” is a vague question and puts the onus on other person to decide how to answer the question. Such an open-ended question suggests you don’t care enough to think of a more specific question and that you’re just trying to keep the conversation going for its own sake, not because you are truly interested in the other person.
A better question might be, “What’s the weirdest thing about your job?” This makes you sound more engaged. Your question is specific which suggests you are more engaged in the conversation.
If you recognize some of your social faux paus in these comments, I hope you benefit from the tips for how to be a better conversationalist in the future.
Cynthia Hammer is the Executive Director of the Inattentive ADHD Coalition – www.iadhd.org.
She earned her Master’s Degree in Social Work in 1972. For many years she was a stay-at-home mom raising three sons while her husband spent long days at work as a general surgeon. She started a non-profit organization in 1993 to help adults with ADHD, and she recently started a different non-profit, the Inattentive ADHd Coalition to create more awareness of Inattentive ADHD. Visit it here: www.iadhd.org