Make Room For The Stuttering

Thanks for Finishing My Words

Posted on: September 21, 2009

How many of us who stutter really hate when a non-stutterer finishes our words for us? Many times, its due to impatience. Sometimes, its genuinely due to a desire to be kind and help us out. Now, I have mixed feelings about this. When I am really stuck and someone supplies a word and it happens to be the right word, I might not get too upset. Sometimes I feel like I have been let off the hook and I don’t have to continue in what seems like this eternally long block.

But if someone seems impatient and supplies a word, and it happens to be the wrong one, then I get a little ticked off. I think, “who are they to fill in my word? They can’t read my mind. They don’t know if that was what I wanted to say.” And I stew about it, sometimes having the courage right then and there to say something and sometimes not. I hate when I don’t say anything, because then its like giving them permission to keep doing it. But I don’t want to intentionally embarrass anyone and quite possibly bring more attention to my stuttering. It’s silly, isn’t it? That I still think like this sometimes? But its the reality of stuttering. It’s so complex. It is certainly not just the stuttered speech that is a concern. It is all the different emotions and feelings that go along with this.

I have done talks to various groups about stuttering and sometimes I include a piece about “how to listen to someone who stutters”. I have included things like maintaining eye contact, being present, and not finishing words for them. And here I am saying its OK in certain situations. Well, in case you didn’t guess, that is my covertness peeking out when I react like that. Being let off the hook reduces my shame in that stuttering moment. Yes,sometimes I still feel shame when I get stuck and nothing seems to work to smoothly get the word out.

Now, what about when someone else who stutters finishes your words for you, or vice versa? I found myself in that situation just last night while chatting with A on the phone. We were talking about a whole bunch of things and we were both stuttering naturally. We are very comfortable with each other. At one point, he was saying something and got caught in a good block. Without realizing it, I suggested the word he was looking for, and out of his mouth came, “Thanks Pam for finishing my words for me. I stutter, you know!”

I was momentarily stunned, because I couldn’t believe I had done that. But more so, I couldn’t believe he said that the way he did. Kudos to him for saying that right away. It didn’t matter that I understood the stuttering experience because I stutter. I still had presumed it was ok to finish his words for him, and I shouldn’t have. I was embarrassed and apologized. He was very good natured and said it was OK. In fact, he teasingly exaggerated his reaction of being insulted, maybe to teach me a lesson.

Later in the conversation, he again got stuck in a good block. He jokingly said, “Come on Pam! Why aren’t you filling in the word for me?” So, he got me again, with a gentle, good humored reminder that even between two people who stutter, what we share is similar yet different. We may react and feel differently about the same things. What bothers me may not bother him, and vice versa. But we have to respect each other when we are talking just as we would expect a fluent speaker to respect us.

So, A did teach me a lesson. Wanting to help someone is often a very natural instinct. I did not mean to imply that I couldn’t wait for him to finish or that he might not be able to finish, but maybe that’s what it felt like to him. I will remember that when a fluent speaker fills in a word for me. They are not necessarily being rude or impatient. They may just want to help.

I also learned that when speaking with anyone, we have to be present and patient, no matter how well we think we know the person and how connected we feel. We cannot read minds. Until the day that mind-reading becomes possible, we have to allow each of us the time needed to say what we want to say.

What do you think? Have you been on both ends of this spectrum? Can you understand why it is so complex and varies from one person to the next?

12 Responses to "Thanks for Finishing My Words"

Hi Pam, I had many occasions to experience this sort of dilemma. Sometimes, I wanted my listener to help out. And, sometimes I wanted to rebuke (I’m a good guy, I never do that 😀 :P) the person for completing my words. But, as you said, I’m also aware that it’s our basic instinct to help others who are in need. So, what I do is, if that person is a stranger, I thank them and say I stutter!

Most of the time, I found that, suddenly people become too friendly and talk more about stuttering than ever. Probably, I think, this puts them at ease and so ourselves. Whatcha say? 🙂

Ridwan 🙂

Hey Ridwan,

Yes, this is an interesting dilemma. The reason this whole thing struck me is that I supplied a word for another person who stutter. It was surprising to me, but indeed reinforced the very human instinct to help.

And I agree that it puts people at ease. I have not yet said thank you to anyone, maybe I should, because it certainly happens to me.

I can totally understand this …i find sometimes when stuck that it awould be really benificial for a person to finish for me.
But sometimes people just naturally assume you need them to finish and then end up saying the wrong word ,which then you have to try and say the correct word .i can’t have it both ways i know !!!!!
Then there is my children who over the years have always finished my sentances and i’ve accepted this ,but just recently as i have become more comfortable with my speech,i have explained to them that they must let me finish what i need to say …but if they walk off in the middle of a block cos i’m cross with them ….then i just have to laugh just ….because !!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Yep, you can’t have your cake and eat it too!

As we get more open and accepting of self, its amazing to learn how we realize so many things that we used to accept are no longer acceptable.

Another great post, Pam – thanks. I’m sure that everyone has a different opinion on this subject.

For myself, I’m always very grateful when people have the patience to listen to me and to wait while I get my words out. However, I also appreciate it when someone supplies a word that I’m having great difficulty saying. I’m conscious that, in doing this, people are often motivated by the desire to help. Understandably, they probably also want to alleviate the discomfort they feel on observing my struggle to speak.

I suppose I’m always acutely conscious of the demands that my speech places on others. It must be extremely difficult for a fluent person to cope with someone who has a severe speech impediment. For this reason, I agree with the point you make that we need to be mindful of the perspective and intentions of the listener.

I am so happy to see you weigh in, Richard.

You make great points. Bottom line, we do need to remember that most people really do have good intentions.

And it can’t be ignorred that by helping, their own anxiety may be lessened.

I still say we are destined to skype on of these days!

Good post Pam! I don’t like people filling in my words, but I have to be honest I have to hold back filling in words at times. You made a good point. To be a good listener, you have to be present and patient. Sometimes being a good listener is a skill and something that needs to be improved.

This happened to me just today when I was out at a restaurant with my girlfriend. The waitress was asking for my order and I had somewhat of a hard time getting out what is was that I wanted to say. My girlfriend just told the waitress what drink I wanted and I began to feel a bit angry at my girlfriend for a split second but I’m pretty sure that her intentions were good. My girlfriend knows me like the back of her hand and apologized and I just lied and told her that it didn’t bother me. But in all reality I was just to embarrassed to tell her my true feelings because in the past I had told her that I didn’t want her finishing my sentences. Another thing that I noticed about my speech is when I am really hungry I tend to have more issues with my speech o well this was another good post Pam.

I’m SO glad to see a post like this! Lengthy and informative to boot!

The thing is, stutterers. Or should I say horrible severe stutterers like me struggle so badly all the time with talking, I should think we would want and invite others to hep us.

Face it, commuincation is no fun when you well can’t communicate!!!

I don’t think listeners help due to impatience. I don’t think that at all. I think they help us due to the fact that they know how bad we want to get out what we are trying to say and they know we just can’t.

For most very severe stutterers, we cannot say what we want to say. I should think we should invite anyone to help us by filling in words.

The more we stutter and the more struggle we have, the more often a listener WILL get impatient.

It’s better for a listener to help us to make our times communicating easier instead of waiting for us KNOWING we can’t say what we want.

Why do people assume stutterers can say what they like on their own?? We stutterers are not fluent people. So we cannot say what we want as easily as anyone else.

Have fun stuttering alot with a listener doing nothing to help you..because you will NOT be understood. And when people don’t understand you, it’s because they didn’t help you when you needed their help the most!!!!

Glad to hear from you Adam! People certainly have a lot of different opinions about this one.

Have you ever asked a listener to help you out? Sometimes people genuinely want to know how they can help,or best listen to someone who stutters. I always say the same way you would listen to anyone else. But you raise a good point.
How will someone know you WANT them to help you if you don’t tell them.

Maybe that’s a proactive step you can take. Not everyone would want that, but stuttering is so individual and situational, I would say this is reasonable, but you have to let your listener know what you want and need.

And then don’t get mad if they happen to supply the woron word. I am looking forward to meeting you in November!

DId the speaker who was being sarcastic stutter on the sarcastic remark or was that fluent Curious !


I actually don’t remember if he stuttered on the “sarcastic remark”, although I am gonna guess yes. That’s why I was so stunned right away, because even in chiding me good naturedly, he stuttered. 🙂

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