Updated: Jan 3
For most of us with ADHD or any form of neurodivergence really, figuring out how to talk to people and make friends can be a very daunting and often anxiety-inducing feat. For most of my life, I have had issues with communicating with people, often causing confusion and/or frustration among those closest to me. Thankfully, I have learned a lot of lessons over the years and gained some knowledge through Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT) which I'm about to pass on so that maybe some of you out there can benefit from my mistakes and lessons.
The first step in reducing loneliness and isolation that is often experienced by those of us who are neurodivergent is to find people and win their respect. It is crucial whether you move to a new area, start a new career, or join a new group of any sort. Remember, humans in general, are built to be social creatures, and we are naturally happier when we are around other people. Sure, it's nice to be alone once in a while, especially if you are an introvert, but all in all, friends bring us happiness. After all, everybody is lovable by someone! Yes, that means you too! But it could require some work on your part to make new friends. You will need to develop a particular set of skills, no, we're not going full Liam Neeson here, but we will need to work and practice at building up our social skills and before you know it, you'll be having to pencil people into your schedule.
Look For People Who are Nearby
A good first step in establishing new relationships is to find opportunities to interact with individuals in your daily environment on a casual but frequent basis.
Make sure you are visible to a group of people and regularly present if you want to meet people you might like and who might like you. Many people make friends through their school or work colleagues, organizations they join, or locations they frequently visit.
Look for People You Have Something in Common With
Engaging in social interactions with others who share your values and interests is the second stage in creating friends. Make sure to inform them of this when you find them. Birds of a feather, as the saying goes, "flock together."
Many individuals are drawn to those who share their main interests and views, such as politics, lifestyle, and morality. However, continually agreeing with someone will not make you more appealing to them.
Oof, this one is always a tough one for those of us whose brain is just wired differently. I mean, what do you even say to people? Here are a few things we can work on and practice so we can get better at interacting with people each day.
1. Ask and Respond to Questions
Remember, people LOVE to talk about themselves, so don't be afraid to ask questions and get to know a little about them. And if they return with questions about you be sure to give a bit more detail in your response than was asked for. This will move the conversation along and keep it from just dying out. It's okay to respond to them and add on questions of your own since this will also keep the dialogue going.
2. Make Small Talk
I know what you're thinking right now, "eew, I hate small talk". Honestly, I think most of us do. But the fact is, it's important not to undervalue the value of "chit-chat" or "small talk". It definitely serves a purpose by acting as a gateway to larger conversations. It's not necessary for conversations to be profoundly significant to be entertaining. And even if it gets you laughing or makes you a bit more familiar with the people you are interacting with, it will open up worlds of opportunities for making new friends.
In one experiment, students were instructed to introduce themselves to one another without engaging in small talk. They all failed miserably as nobody knew where to begin.
3. Self-Disclose Skillfully
People with ADHD or ASD may find this incredibly challenging since we have a natural tendency to info-dump and overshare knowledge. Social sensitivity and social judgment are required for appropriate and skillful self-disclosure, which is neither too much nor too little. As a relationship develops, we have the desire to reveal more and more about ourselves, but doing so too early or too late might damage the connection. One tip I would give is to keep your level of self-disclosure similar to the other person's.
4. Don’t Interrupt
This is a skill especially hard for those with ADHD. One thing to keep in mind is that interrupting does not always mean breaking into someone’s sentences. Starting to talk just fractionally before or instantly after someone has finished risks giving the impression that you are not really listening to them, only waiting for them to be quiet so that you can have your say!
Try pausing and counting to 5 in your head or taking a breath after someone finishes a sentence. This allows time to see if the other person is done talking or not and also gives the appearance that you are thinking about what they have said. Also, remember to make eye contact as this is another sign that you are listening and interested in what the other person is saying, it can help keep your attention on them as well instead of getting distracted by everything going on around you.
5. Learn What to Talk About
Good conversationalists pick up topics to discuss by listening to what is being said and how other people respond. Sometimes the issue is not knowing what to talk about. Some people could find this confusing since they are unsure of which subjects to discuss in what circumstances. Although there are no set guidelines for this, it is a good idea to observe others.
Caroline McGuire, author of the book "Why Will No One Play With Me?" (an amazing book that I highly recommend reading by the way) has a great Ted Talk about a skill specifically geared towards Neurodivergent people called "Becoming a Social Spy" that covers this subject very well.
But What if People Think I'm Weird?
Okay, so you know all the things you need to work on to get better at talking to people. Now the only thing you have to do is get over that crippling fear of people thinking that you are weird and judging you. Trust me, I get it, I have literally spent my whole life being the awkward nerdy kid who couldn't figure out how to talk to people and ended up just quietly resigning myself to the back of the classroom and drawing pictures. However, that did nothing for my self-confidence, nor did it help me conquer my depression or anxiety. The longer we sit back and wait, the worse off it gets.
But great news! The reality of the situation is that most people are more worried about how they look in front of you than how you look in front of them. They aren't going to be judging you, they are going to be mostly judging themselves the entire time they are talking to you. And the reality of the matter is, our neurodivergent brains aren't making us weird. They make us more interesting than most other people. And we can use this to our advantage. So my homework assignment for all of you out there reading this is to go out there and let that light you've been keeping all to yourself shine so others can finally see it. Meet new people, say hello, and introduce yourself to someone you don't really know but want to. Because you deserve to be seen, and the world wants to learn more about you!
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