Though not often thought of as an ADHD-related challenge, many ADHDers struggle socially. Difficulty maintaining focus can make participating in a conversation feel impossible while impulsivity may cause you to make cringe-worthy comments. Over time, relationships may suffer and feelings of social awkwardness and embarrassment may eventually cause the person with ADHD to withdraw and avoid social situations altogether.
Why is socializing difficult for people with ADHD?
Many of the common challenges associated with ADHD such as poor focus, distractibility, impulsivity, and forgetfulness can make navigating the social world particularly difficult.
We often take for granted how much focus and concentration is required to carry on even a simple conversation. It may not seem like it but listening is actually a very active process. It requires you to tune in to what the person is saying, watch for changes in tone and facial expressions, formulate an appropriate and coherent response, and communicate that response using the appropriate tone, nuance, and language.
ADHDers often struggle socially because they may miss subtle social cues; lose focus mid-conversation and realize they’ve not heard most of what the other person has said to them; or they may impulsively make statements which come across as inappropriate or rude without meaning to. As a result, their relationships with others may suffer and they begin to shy away from social interactions altogether.
If this sounds familiar, here are 5 tips on how to become a people person and navigate any social situation more easily…
Consider your audience: It’s important to recognize that we must assess and adjust our behavior based on who our intended audience is. In other words, the way you might speak to and interact with say, someone who is a good friend or family member, is probably very different from the way you would behave around an acquaintance or co-worker.
Before you decide to dive into a political debate or forward a funny email, take a moment to consider your how the action could potentially be received and whether or not it’s appropriate given your audience.
Become a social detective: One of the main reasons it can be so difficult for a person with ADHD to navigate social situations successfully is because they may miss subtle, but nevertheless important, social cues. In order to develop your social awareness skills, try becoming a social detective. Whenever you’re out and about, make it a point to observe others in the same situation. What do they look like? Does there appear to be a dress-code of sorts? What are they talking about? How far away are they standing from the person they’re speaking to? What is one person doing when the other is speaking? Becoming a keen social observer can help you identify the more subtle aspects of social interaction and make decisions on how you might best conduct yourself in a given situation.
Take the guesswork out of small talk: If you find yourself at a loss when it comes to striking up conversation with acquaintances, brainstorm a list of possible questions and topics beforehand. Some of my clients like to browse the news for current events, sports stories, or popular movies that could serve as potential conversation-starters. Questions you might ask could be, “How was your week/weekend/holiday? Did you do anything fun?”; “Have you seen any good movies/TV shows?”; “Do you follow sports at all?”. The better prepared you feel beforehand, the easier it will be to relax and mingle.
Maintain focus and engagement: Many ADHDers find it difficult to stay engaged in a conversation, particularly one they don’t find all that interesting. If you find yourself drifting away from what someone is saying, make it a point to maintain eye contact or play a game with yourself such as counting how many times they say “um”. Quiet, covert fidgets like playing with change in your pocket or wiggling your toes in your shoes can do wonders to help keep you engaged.
If you do lose focus and realize you may have missed some of what was said, have a response at the ready that you feel comfortable with. Maybe something like, “I’m sorry, could you repeat what you said? I got so caught up on what you said earlier that I think I missed that last part.” Come up with a go-to statement you feel comfortable with that can help alleviate a potentially sticky situation.
Get out and socialize: As much as you might want to retreat from others and hide, don’t! It’s true that some people are just social butterflies by nature, but being socially adept is a skill. And like any other skill, it requires practice. Make it a point to be out and about among other people. Join a social activities group, meet friends for coffee, take a class, go out for lunch or a movie. Isolation tends to make feelings of anxiety, depression, and social awkwardness feel worse. Regularly getting out and about among people can help you overcome those feelings, strengthen your social skills, and give you an opportunity to build lasting relationships.