ADHD in Adults: Tips for Managing Impulsiveness in Conversations

Health Writer

Impulsiveness is one of the main symptoms of ADHD and often continues to cause problems well into adulthood. A report published in the Journal of the International Neuropsychological Society states, “Impulsivity….might be the basis of much of the impairment observed in the daily life” of adults with ADHD. According to the report, there are three main components of impulsivity: attentional problems, non-planning and motor skills. One area many adults with ADHD have problems with impulsiveness is in oral communication. You might find that you:

  • Interrupt others when speaking
  • Blurt out inappropriate remarks or speaking at inappropriate times
  • Monopolize the conversation
  • Miss important details of a conversation
  • Change topics in a conversation randomly

The following are tips to help you improve social communication skills:

Work on understanding body language and social cues. Much of our communication is unspoken, for example, facial expressions, tone of voice and gestures can tell you a lot about the meaning behind someone’s words. Those with ADHD often miss these types of social cues. Work with your therapist or ADHD coach to gain a better understanding of this hidden language.

Keep a notebook with you. This is especially helpful during business conversations and meetings. Many adults with ADHD say they blurt out responses or comments because they are afraid they will forget what they want to say later and end up inserting these comments at inappropriate times. Instead, write down any comments you have so you can bring them up at a more appropriate time.

Gauge your “impulsive level” before joining in a conversation. Are you wound-up, overcharged or feeling agitated? If so, you are more apt to fall into impulsive behaviors during a conversation. Instead of joining in, take a few moments to calm your mind: deep breathing, mindfulness or 5 minute meditation can help slow your mind before jumping in.

Spend time watching before speaking. Look at the conversation participants and take a few minutes to take some mental notes. Watch and listen to find out what the conversation is about for several minutes before joining in. This might take some practice as your impulsiveness might take over and you want to jump right in. Take a deep breath, listen for a few minutes and then join in the conversation.

Be careful with the information you share. When impulsiveness takes over and you start rambling, you can provide details of your life that are probably better kept to yourself. Start with generalities and add details only as the conversation warrants it.

Use the phrase, “let me think about that a moment” when asked for your opinion. This gives you time to form your response before blurting out something inappropriate or offensive.

Keep in mind conversation is a two-way street. If you are doing most of the talking, you aren’t having a conversation, you are giving a monologue. Limit how long you are speaking and get in the habit of asking questions and then letting the other person talk.

Practice. Ask friends, relatives and loved ones to help you practice your conversational skills. Ask for feedback on whether you monopolize the conversation, talk too quickly or interrupt when others are talking. Then, practice improving in specific areas rather than generally trying to “improve communication skills.”

Impulsivity can show up in other areas of your life as well. You might find that you quickly move from one activity to another, be in financial trouble because of impulsive shopping, have several tickets for speeding or careless driving or engage in high-risk behaviors. Treatment for ADHD, which often includes cognitive behavioral therapy and medications, can help reduce impulsive behaviors. Working with an ADHD coach might also help. If these types of behaviors are interfering with your life or holding you back, talk with your doctor or therapist about ways to curb impulsivity.

For more information on coping with ADHD symptoms as an adult:

10 Signs You Might Have Adult ADHD

ADHD at Work

Strategies for Managing Adult ADHD

Adult ADHD and Disorganization: My Messy House

Money Management and Adults with ADHD