small talk and ADHDHate small talk?

Does the thought of making small talk fill you with dread? You’re not alone. Most people dislike idle chitchat because it feels fake and like a waste of time. If you have ADHD making small talk likely is one of your least favorite things to do.

Over the years I have listened as clients describe the lengths to which they go to avoid having to make small talk. Arriving at class just after the bell rings. Skipping lunches. Turning down invitations for social events because they were preceded by a period likely to include the need for “small talk”. Surviving small talk is not a small problem for many people with ADHD.

Why is this trivial style of conversation so difficult for some people with ADHD? Well, the problem lies in the very definition. Small talk is defined as the art of having a conversation about “unimportant” things. Unimportant, aka uninteresting and boring to people with active, creative ADHD brains.

I like the definition given by the Urban Dictionary best when it defines small talk as:

“Useless and unnecessary conversation attempted to fill the silence in an awkward situation. Commonly backfires into feelings of loneliness and social discomfort. Usually is initiated by comments regarding the current weather, weather pattern of the past/future few days, or major weather disturbances in the recent past. (Insert yawn here). Lucky for those people who find the weather incredibly interesting. And for the rest of us…a topic about as interesting as discussing paint drying.”

People with ADHD are not alone in finding small talk meaningless. Studies show that in general people prefer having deeper and more meaningful discussions. Conversations with more substance are linked to increased happiness and well-being. Social customs and etiquette aside, we are social beings. Good conversations create greater connection. Simply put, talking about stuff that matters, not trivial matters, makes us happier.

That said getting a conversation going is not always easy. On a date, at a dinner party, or even with a loved one, dialogue doesn’t always flow. The good news is it doesn’t have to be this way. Following are 6 ways to turn small talk into more meaningful conversations.

  1. Ask open-ended questions. Starting a question with a “what” leads to answers that are fuller and expand the conversation. “What” questions encourage introspection and show you are genuinely interested in the other person’s experience.
  2. Be curious. Ask questions that will help you find common topics. Avoid asking the predictable questions like, “Where are you from?” and “What do you do?” Be curious about the people you meet. Find out what makes them unique, what you might have in common, and what new interesting things you might learn. Instead, ask “What’s something most people don’t appreciate about your work?” or “What’s one of your fondest memories growing up?”
  3. Ask for advice. For the most part, people love to talk about themselves and their experiences. Studies show that talking about ourselves feels good. It activates the same areas of the brain when eating good food and being with people we like. Note: For small talk remember this is about asking the other person for advice and their experiences.
  4. Apply generous listening. Generous listening involves hearing the words the other person is saying and paying attention to what they are not saying. Try to notice when the topic is something the other person is passionate about. You’ll know this when the speed of their speech increases. Their eyes light up. And they seem to be unaware of much else but the topic. Once that happens all you have to do is listen.
  5. Consider the 80/20 rule. The aim is to get the other person talking 80% of the time while you talk 20% of the time. The right questions will do this. Getting the other person talking is one of the best ways to get through small talk.
  6. Give the long answer. Holding up your end of the conversation means you give the other person something to work with. For example, if asked about the weather, don’t give a short answer…this is your chance to embellish. Talk about what you like to do in weather like this. Or talk about your favorite time of year.

Bottom line: You can turn around your previous dread with small talk. By changing your perspective, your questions, and your answers, you can change small talk into something important and interesting.

Great minds discuss ideas; average minds discuss events; small minds discuss people. – Eleanor Roosevelt

What are some of your best ideas for surviving small talk? I’d love to hear from you.

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