ADHD Symptom Spotlight: Interrupting

Close-up young women talking, while sitting in bunk bed

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ADHD Symptom Spotlight is a series that dives deep into a hallmark or overlooked symptom of ADHD each week. This series is written by experts who also share their tips on managing these symptoms based on firsthand experience and research-backed insights.

One of the many ADHD traits that gets misread as a sign of rudeness is the habit of interrupting people in conversations, usually with a thought that seems completely unrelated to the topic. When someone gets cut off, they often think it means you weren’t really listening or you don’t care what they have to say.

For many people with ADHD, though, that couldn’t be further from the truth. We are listening (except when we space out) and we do care what you have to say. Those interruptions are just a result of multiple ADHD symptoms.

Why People With ADHD Interrupt So Often

The tendency to interrupt conversations or cut people off likely stems from a combination of ADHD symptoms including poor impulse control, inability to choose what we pay attention to, and poor working memory.

So during a conversation, people on the outside are basically witnessing what’s happening inside an ADHD brain all day long: racing thoughts, erratic jumps between topics that don’t seem related on the surface, attention that darts from stimulus to stimulus without regard for what’s relevant and what isn’t.

The result can look like sudden interruptions and frequent tangents as people with ADHD struggle to resist the impulse to talk and worry that if they don’t say the thing right now, they’ll forget it.

I think this particular ADHD trait of mine went unnoticed for a long time because it didn’t exactly raise any eyebrows in my family. I grew up on family gatherings where everyone was talking at the same time and interrupting others mid-sentence. If you wanted to get a word in, you didn’t wait for an opportunity, you simply started talking louder than the other person.

As I got older, I encountered other families and other social dynamics and realized how that communication style could be seen as overwhelming and even impolite. After all, is anyone really listening if we’re all talking over each other? The answer is yes (unless it’s a political debate).

I don’t interrupt people because I think what they’re saying is irrelevant or boring. It’s actually the opposite. I interrupt because what they said triggered a thought and that thought feels like it needs to come out right this second. It’s also honestly easier to listen if I’m allowed to interrupt. When I have to hold onto the thought, I end up waiting for my turn more than listening to what the other person is saying.

When Interrupting Becomes a Problem

While it’s not an issue in situations where people are used to interruptions, it can create tension and hurt feelings for people who aren’t comfortable with that communication dynamic. For those people, interruptions are hurtful because it’s interpreted as a lack of interest or concern for what they have to say.

It can also be challenging when you need to stay focused on a certain topic. In a work meeting, for example, interruptions—especially when they veer from the meeting agenda—can be distracting and make it difficult for others to concentrate on the topic.

Likewise, in serious discussions with a partner or friend, interruptions can create tension when trying to solve a problem in your relationship.

Even though your intention isn’t to be rude or hurtful in any of these situations, that might still be the impact your interruptions have.

Communication Strategies for People With ADHD

Like any aspect of communication, managing your interruptions is about give and take. You will need to develop some techniques for dialing down the excitement and resisting the urge to cut someone off. Meanwhile, the people in your life should also meet you halfway by learning that this is part of your communication style, not a sign of rudeness.

Ask for Understanding from Friends and Family

In most of your casual conversations, interruptions aren’t really a problem unless they’re hurting people who aren’t used to that communication dynamic. Rather than take on the full burden yourself to control your interrupting, explain this ADHD trait to your loved ones and ask for patience and understanding.

Remind them that an interruption does not mean you weren’t listening and does not mean you found the topic boring. You just needed to get the thought out. Remind them also that they can and should carry on with what they were saying once you do get the thought out.

Keep Interruptions Short

It’s one thing to cut someone off who isn’t used to it. It’s another thing to cut them off and then launch into a 10-minute tangent about that article you read about how plants can, in fact, feel. Keep it short, especially if it’s completely unrelated to the original conversation. If it is related, try to tie it back into the main thread quickly.

Ask Questions to Encourage People to Continue After an Interruption

Again, some people will feel hurt and might shut down in response to being cut off, even when they’re trying to be understanding of your ADHD. So it helps to offer them encouragement. If they do shut down, ask them to continue what they were saying before the interruption.

I find it helps to ask specific questions about whatever the topic was. It’ll demonstrate that you really were listening and can reignite their desire to share their perspective.

Develop Techniques for Situations Where Interrupting Isn’t OK

In serious conversations or professional settings where you really need to patiently wait your turn, you can have some tools at the ready to help you get through without interrupting—and without becoming so fixated on not interrupting that you stop listening.

Here are some techniques that I find helpful:

  • Exercise beforehand. Do 20-30 minutes of physical activity before an important meeting or a serious conversation with a partner. I find this makes it a lot easier to sit still and be quiet later on.
  • Take notes. Write the interrupting thought down so you can let it out without verbalizing it. Plus, once written, you know you won’t forget it if you want to say it later.
  • Ask for permission. If the thought is something timely and relevant—maybe you need clarification on what they’re saying or to correct a mistake they’ve made—ask for permission before blurting out the thought. The ask also interrupts the person, sure, but it shows that you respect their time and perspective. Just be sure you’re really limiting interruptions to the strictly necessary ones.
  • Avoid distracting environments. If you have the opportunity to choose where this conversation is happening, pick one with as few distractions as possible. It’s already hard for your ADHD brain to control its attention, so an environment full of other stimuli is going to fill you with distracting thoughts that can feel just as urgent as the actually relevant ones.
  • Use a fidget. If you’re feeling impatient or even annoyed during the conversation, fidgeting can help diffuse some of that tension and excitability. Squeeze a stress ball, tap your foot, or fidget with your jewelry while you listen.
  • Apologize without excuses. You might still interrupt people even when you’re trying your best. The best thing to do is say, “Sorry, I cut you off. What were you saying?” Yes, you have ADHD. But in this situation, it’s not about justifying your behavior. It’s about acknowledging how you impacted the person and moving forward.
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Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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By Rachael Green
Rachael is a New York-based writer and freelance writer for Verywell Mind, where she leverages her decades of personal experience with and research on mental illness—particularly ADHD and depression—to help readers better understand how their mind works and how to manage their mental health.