Make Room For The Stuttering

On Confidence

Posted on: November 6, 2009

I had a great phone conversation last night with a person who stutters who is preparing for and participating in job interviews. We talked about how important it is to communicate with confidence, even on words that we may stutter on. This person has finished his medical training to become a doctor and he is interviewing for residencies at hospitals.

He uses speech tools to manage his blocks, which he feels is very important in presenting himself at interviews. He finds the use of bouncing and prolongation to be most helpful in managing his speech, but mostly, helping him feel confident as he goes into interview situations, which we know are highly anxious situations anyway, but especially for a person who stutters.

He practices his speech tools every day, and was eager to explain bouncing to me. He started off by bouncing 4 or 5 times on the beginning part of every word until he was feeling no tension. He then reduced the bouncing to one or two times per word, and now only uses it when he feels a block coming on, He also uses some prolongations as well, again, to help him produce difficult words confidently.

He encouraged me to try it with him over the phone. He asked me to say 5 sentences and bounce at least 4 times at the beginning of each word. I felt VERY self-conscious doing this. I explained that I tend to stutter more on the phone than I do face-to-face. I am also uncomfortable using speech tools, because in a way I feel tools make me covert again.

This conversation reminded me of two similar discussions this past week. On Sunday, I spoke with friend Ridwan  who is feeling very frustrated about his lack of success on many recent interviews. He has a Masters degree in engineering and has interviewed with many employers, but so far, has had no call backs for a second interview or no job offers.

He feels very discouraged and wonders if his stuttering is getting in the way. Ridwan and I did a mock interview over the phone, and we focused on preparing answers to questions about strengths, leadership ability and career goals. We also discussed when in the interview you should bring up stuttering and how much emphasis one should place on this. After all, employers are hiring people who can do the engineering job, not who happen to stutter. We concluded with Ridwan mulling over the possibilities of calling potential employers and asking if he could do an internship with them, to get his foot in the door and acquire needed experience.

On Monday night, in self-help group, one member was talking about his lack of success in job interviews. He too stutters, and feels very discouraged and frustrated by the lack of offers coming his way. He went so far as to say he “hates his stutter” and that for him, “stuttering is a nightmare”. Fellow support group members offered him advice and support.

Today’s job market is challenging and daunting. Many people are out of work, struggling to find jobs that were once plentiful. A person who stutters has to carefully analyze interview preparations and be sure he or she is absolutely putting their best foot forward. One of the best tools might just be practicing interview questions with a trusted friend or family member, and working on sounding assertive and confident.

It is not easy, this economic and employment situation we find ourselves in. As a career counselor in a high school, it is tough for me to offer good advice to students who are on the cusp of transition from school to work or higher education. I encourage many of my students to go on to college. More education is proven to help advance people in their particular career pathways.

I also encourage students and job seekers to fully examine their transferable skills. Being able to communicate with confidence and conviction during interviews is critical. But remember, communication does not include 100% fluency. We can stutter and still be very effective communicators.

What advice would you offer to people seeking employment in today’s job market? Can stuttering be an asset?  How can you best disclose stuttering in a job interview?

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4 Responses to "On Confidence"

Hey Pam,

Is bouncing like Voluntary Stuttering? Could you elaborate a bit, Please? 🙂

Yep, bouncing is like voluntary stuttering. You “bounce” on the first syllable or sound of each word, like ba-ba-ba-ba-ball. You are doing it purposely, exactly like with VS, but more in a bouncing pattern to induce fluid speech and reduce tension that builds up from the (anticipated) block.
Once you have bounced 4 times on a word, you can ghen reduce it to one or two times, the point being that you can now confidently say the word, with no tension, so even if it comes out stuttered, it is tension free.
Of course, I am not an SLP, and am only sharing what this friend said works for him. But as I listened to him “bounce” he sounded fluid and comfortable. When he did not use the slight bounce, I could hear stuttered speech, with noticeable tension. He says he uses it all the time.
Different tools are going to work differently for everyone. I don’t think you should practice this AT a job interview, but at home privately, or with trusted friends or family.
There is too much at stake at a job interview to be experimenting with new strategies.

Okay, just ignore the part of my comment about bouncing being more distracting.

I thought it was bouncing you body, not just variations on stuttering.

Having been through about 50 interviews over the years,…

Bouncing during a job interview would be more distracting and off-putting than a stutter. There are now two “nervous habits” instead of one. (Yes, it’s not a nervous habit, but the employer probably doesn’t know that. An interview is not the time to force an education on him.)

Everyone should practise interviews, especially their hot button questions. Videoing the practice is also good.

All the “how to get a job” seminars and books say to practise interviews. That advice doesn’t change if you stutter.

I used to enjoy the challenge of taking each question, and turning it into a chance to say something good about myself. “What is your biggest weakness” became a demonstration of how I deal with challenges: investigate, then try to fix or work around or both.

Think about which questions open the door to discussing your stutter. “Weakness” would not be good — it isn’t a weakness. “Challenge” or “frustration” might work.

Consider disclosing near the end of the cover letter — after they’re interested in you, but before they actually meet you. “I should warn you that I have a (severe) stutter. It doesn’t affect my work, but sometimes verbal communication takes longer than usual.”

Also mention at some point if you’re in speech therapy, or if you were, or will take it. Again, think like the employer, who might expect you to “fix it”. By taking therapy, you are working on “fixing” it.

Later (perhaps even during the interview), you can lead him down the path from “fix” to “often isn’t a fix” to “meanwhile, I do this…”

A flat, “Therapy doesn’t work,” sounds like you are the type of person to give up, or that you often disagree with the establishment — and in this case, the employer is the establishment. Hitting the highlights of your attempts to fix it and the results, and what you are doing in light of what you found, shows good things about you.

Maybe, “I’m one of the unlucky ones where the therapy doesn’t work.” Not fighting the employer’s assumption that therapy works, not whining, not being too lazy for therapy, just not one of the lucky ones for whom therapy works.

Employers with a longer non-verbal phase might be good. It’s not as easy these days, now that phones and internet are so common, but it helps. That doesn’t mean make your cover letter and resume longer.

Meet the employer where he is. Challenging his assumptions will make him uncomfortable. The interview is about your ability to do the job and related jobs, and how comfortable your coworkers will be with you, not teaching him about stuttering.

Most colleges and universities offer job search seminars. They like to brag about how many of their students find jobs, so they invest in it. Also, unemployment insurance, retraining programs, community colleges, continuing education groups, and tons more offer courses. These are reputable places, not someone who plans to make money regurgitating ten minutes of internet research to desperate job seekers.

I’ve taken two or three, and they are absolutely worth every penny. The camaraderie of other people looking for work is great. One group continued to have coffee for a few months after the course ended.

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