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Predictable Conversations, Impatience and ADHD

The most interesting conversations are the ones that surprise you. But let’s face it: most of the conversations you have, from small talk to work communication, probably aren’t surprising.

Predictable conversations happen when you know what someone is going to say before they say it. That’s not a bad thing, of course – communicating well sometimes requires saying the things that might be obvious, just to be sure. And it involves being willing to listen to other people say the things that might be obvious.

ConversationThis latter part is where impatience can get in the way.

On my recent post about interrupting and ADHD, one commenter made the point that ADHDers might interrupt because they know what someone else is going to say, so they’re trying to move the conversation forward. I’ve never explicitly thought about that reason for interrupting, but it rings true to me.

When I start to get the feeling of someone launching into saying something predictable, that’s a moment when I’m more likely to impulsively say something rather than wait for them to finish their thought.

It goes back to impatience, which in turn has to do with ADHD-related traits like wanting immediate rewards, not being able to delay gratification, and having an intolerance for understimulating activities – including predictable conversations.

However, not dealing with predictable conversations appropriately isn’t just an issue when it comes to interrupting. It can also tie into inattention, and missing key information from conversations.

Why? Because that moment when I feel I know exactly what someone is going to say is also a moment when my attention is likely to waver.

The problem arises when you think you know what someone is going to say, so your attention automatically shifts, but then the person says something different than what you thought was coming. That sequence of events is a recipe for words familiar to many ADHDers: “but I told you, weren’t you listening?”

This aspect of ADHD can really show up in any kind of predictable task, not just conversations. You go on autopilot because you think you know what’s coming, which leads you to make an inattentive oversight. Take driving: 99 percent of the time it’s predictable, but you really have to be paying attention to deal with that other 1 percent.

Whatever context this behavior shows up in, it’s a good example of impatience and impulsivity in action. When the task at hand starts to seem predictable, the ADHD brain automatically goes off in search of something more stimulating and immediately rewarding, with unintentional, inattentive consequences that result.

Image: Flickr/Valery Kenski

Predictable Conversations, Impatience and ADHD

Neil Petersen

Neil Petersen writes regularly on psychology, ADHD and education. In addition to ADHD Millennial, he writes about psychology at Psych Central's AllPsych blog and about ADHD at He can be found on Twitter at @ADaptHD_blog

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APA Reference
Petersen, N. (2020). Predictable Conversations, Impatience and ADHD. Psych Central. Retrieved on October 23, 2020, from


Last updated: 4 Feb 2020
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