Make Room For The Stuttering

On Being Heard

Posted on: December 15, 2010

As a person who stutters, I once believed no one would want to listen to me talk for any length of time. I had gotten “the look” too many times. You know the one I mean. When the listener first realizes something is different, and the look of surprise appears.

Their eyebrows arch, eyes widen, and then they quickly glance away. Then, maybe thinking that to be rude, they look back for a second, and quickly break eye contact again. Then they look distracted, looking at their watch, or a clock, or suddenly seem fascinated with the cracks in the ceiling tiles. They look everywhere but at me, the person talking and stuttering. Amazing how this can be read in seconds.

This week, I am pushing outside of my comfort zone in a new way. I have been a member of the Inter-Faith Story Circle of the Tri-City Area for just less than a year. I will facilitate the December circle and talk about my stuttering journey, to people who don’t stutter. Some of them may have never heard a real stutterer stutter.

I have a theme, “Stories of Trust, Leaps of Faith and Courage”.  I plan to open with a reflection and tell three stories. Then, circle members will be invited to share a story of their own, if they wish. It becomes a story swap. We do not process, offer feedback or applaud. We just listen and let the stories in. As a gesture of acknowledgment, members gently rub our hands together after a story is told.

In preparation for the circle, one of the seasoned tellers offered to “listen out my stories”. We met last week in a coffee shop, and over tea, I told my stories and she listened, really listened. She had a notepad with her and shared that she might jot some thoughts for feedback after. I was a little worried about that. But I didn’t need to be. She was a seasoned listener.

As I told, I “watched her listen”. She never took her eyes away from me. She was entirely present. Her facial expressions matched my tone. She took notes without ever looking down at her pad. Her eyes showed emotion, sometimes a smile, or look of surprise, or sadness, or wonder. Mostly presence though.

I stopped “watching her listen”, and just relaxed and told. I did not gaze directly at her, as suddenly I felt so free that someone was listening with intent, that I found more passion in my voice, used more imagery to describe a memory and used my hands to gesture. When I glanced at this woman, she was totally with me, listening, feeling the emotion of my story. As I neared the end, I felt overwhelmed with what I had shared to a near stranger. I choked up and my eyes brimmed over. I looked down for a second and back up. Her eyes were also watery and it was OK.

I had never had someone listen so intently, even as I openly stuttered. We paused and smiled at each other and then she said she wanted to share with me what she had heard. She offered me “appreciations” – told me all the things that had moved her and that helped create images in her mind as she listened.

I had expected to get “feedback” such as things I should change in my stories. Nope. This woman who I did not know very well just listened, appreciated, and told me that.

What an intimate experience to have had. I felt that what we had done had mattered a great deal that evening in the little coffee shop. I felt valued and alive. When we said good night and hugged, my eyes welled up again. We weren’t strangers anymore.

5 Responses to "On Being Heard"

It is great to be heard. Glad you told this story. All the best with your event.

Ahh…I know this listener. She is a jewel of a listener! And your story of being listened to…of being beautiful. I felt my whole body smile as I read it. Thank you.

Oh that’s wonderful! Did you tell her in advance that you stutter? Did she know already? I wish I had somebody listen like this.

This week I stepped out of my comfort zone and had lunch with a group of other students I don’t really talk that much to. Someone asked me a question and I had six pairs of eyes staring at me and I was blocking horribly. When I finally got my words out someone bursted out in laughter as if my stutter was the funniest thing she’s ever heard. It was quite frustrating so I do wish people would be more like the listener you had 🙂

She knew I stuttered from my bio, but I don’t think she had ever heard me speak, and we did not talk about it beforehand, like I didn’t warn her or anything.
Its good to hear you stepped out of your comfort zone and went to lunch with others. Maybe you could challenge yourself to respond if that happens again, say something like, “hey, I don’t find that funny, I stutter and I’m OK with it, but I am not OK with people laughing at me.” That takes courage, but is oh so worth it. I have done it, and it feels good to walk away knowing I didn’t let anybody laugh and just “take it”.
One of the things you should consider is that as a person who stutters, you get the unique opportunity to teach others how to be better listeners.
Hope you check in again!

Wow then I think it’s even greater that she listened the way she did. Good job on you being so courageous though. I’m sure it took a lot of courage to decide you wanted to do this?

Well, being a person who stutters I know how what it feels like to be put on the spot like this and it definitely doesn’t feel good. Stuttering has taught me to treat people how I want to be treated and if I had put her on the spot then and there, I would’ve been no better (I hope that makes sense). I do think I should’ve said something to her about it later but I didn’t. It’s actually my first New Year’s resolution: Stand up for myself.

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