Make Room For The Stuttering

Negative Reactions Still Sting

Posted on: February 20, 2012

I was in an important meeting earlier in the week, with two of my colleagues and two guests from another organization. I had reached out to the other agency, inviting them to meet with us so we could explore a partnership. I had done the initial outreach by phone.

This was an important meeting. Everybody in the room had a vested interest in brainstorming and getting both opportunities and challenges onto the table. A partnership with this agency means a “win-win” for both organizations, and ultimately the individuals we serve.

Since I had convened the meeting, I led off, introducing people and getting right to the point. Early in, I blocked and then had some repetitions. The woman guest snickered and had a bemused expression. I didn’t say anything, but continued talking and had another minor block. The woman laughed again and showed “the look”, you know the one I mean.

Out of the corner of my eye, I could see my female colleague catch my eye and question me with just her eyes. She was silently asking, “well, how are you going to handle this?”

I am one of those persons who doesn’t want to make my stuttering an issue in professional environments. At this meeting, we were not convened to talk about stuttering. But I had to say something. This woman obviously did not know how to react when encountering someone who stutters.

It also bothered me, a LOT. I was surprised that a manager in a social services agency would be so disrespectful, even if that was not her intent.

So I very quickly said, “Pardon me, you should know I stutter, and I’m OK with it. I hope you can be too.” The woman then blushed, looked down, and said “I’m sorry.”

I momentarily felt guilty. I did not mean to embarrass her or make her feel bad. But she had unknowingly (I assume) made me feel bad and I needed to get the “pink elephant” out in the open right away and then move on. Which I did.

I continued talking, and stuttering, and then we all participated in a great dialogue and had a productive meeting. My stuttering was a non-issue for the rest of the meeting.

Afterwards, I asked my colleague what she thought of the way I had handled it. We have only worked together for 3 months. She said, “You had to say something. Once you did, it became a non-issue, and we moved forward. You did the right thing.”

She then said, “You must get that a lot, huh?”

I knew what she meant and wished it wasn’t true, but she is right. Yes, I get those looks and snickers a lot from people who don’t know I stutter before they learn that I actually do.

People seem surprised. Like they don’t expect a person in a position that requires so much communication to happen to stutter.

When this happens, I feel it is my responsibility to educate the listeners, so we can move forward.

Even though I am very accepting of my stuttering, I will admit that negative reactions like this still sting. I still feel hurt when it happens, even when I know it was not intentional

What do you think? Do you “get this” a lot? How would you have responded? Do you think I did the right thing?

15 Responses to "Negative Reactions Still Sting"

Is this the 19th century?

Pam, what you said was perfect. I would not have thought of something that mature in that kind of situation..especially right off the top of your head! I’m always stumped as to what to say in those situations. I either stoop to their level (unfortunately), or I act too cowardly. It’s hard for me to find that medium sometimes. But you did great! I’m gonna use this line, if that’s okay with you! lol. I would have reacted the same way too .. in the sense of how you felt. There are a few people I know who, if I were to see them again, I wouldn’t be able to shake how bad they made me feel when they made fun of my stutter. It’s so hard to forgive and move on, but, always in our position, we are forced to do that and be the bigger person. One instance I remember where someone “snickered” was when I was in a room getting to know “singles” at this church event and we all had to go around the room (*sigh*), and introduce ourselves and answer the question on the screen. So, I was the second to last person, of course. lol. But as it got closer to my turn, my heart never beat so fast or hard in my chest. I can’t remember that happening since high school! Which was a while ago. So I just KNEW I would stutter on my name, but I wasn’t going to get up and leave the room. So, when it was my turn, I said my name, stuttered on it, got all red and hot, but after I got through my name, just paused and got my composure … and slowly and mostly fluently got through the rest of my answer to the question. I was really fluent the rest of the time I was speaking, it was great. BUT, I heard one or two people in the room “snicker” and kinda make a sound of surprise or confusion at what they were hearing. I didn’t think it was appropriate to disclose my stuttering in that moment. I wanted to just stutter through that moment and show them that I was okay with it by continuing to speak confidently. (and I did speak confidently from there on out). I wanted to SHOW THEM that I was okay with it and it wasn’t a big deal. So, that’s one recent experience I remember. It empowered me in a way and was refreshing to know that I can still manage my stuttering in difficult situations. Hope that helps. But, your answer was absolutely perfect and very mature. Go Pam!!!

Thank you Christine for checking in and sharing your own experience.
And you too Heather for reading and offering feedback.

It’s funny – sometimes I feel like such a hypocrite, because I really have come such a long way with how I feel about stuttering, and all of the ups and downs that comes with it. Most of the time, I accept myself as who I am and as you both know, I encourage others to do the same, through this blog, my podcasts and other things I do in the stuttering community.

But stuff like this still bothers me – I suppose that it might always bother me. I still get those feelings of shame and worthlessness, and when they creep in, I feel surprised, like “where did you come from? I am supposed to be over feeling that.”

I guess not! My feelings and my ego and my soul, I guess, still bruise easily. I hate that I can’t shut that part off!

It sucks that this sort of stuff still happens. I think you handled yourself very well. In fact, I think I’m going to take a page from your book on my next conference call.

Ms. Mertz, you did good, said the right things without sounding too nasty. 🙂 Myself, I would have said something before the meeting got rolling just to head off things like that. Wouldn’t have made an issue of it, just got it out of the way early. And, yes, stuff like that still stings and hurts.

I think you handled it perfectly.
It’s hard to believe a grown professional woman could be that ignorant.

PAM, I love it that you express the fact that this stuff still hurts. My sister read my stuff on stuttering and said “Why, baby, it never occurred to me that your stuttering bothered you a bit. Why, we always thought you were so cute and funny that it didn’t bother us.” I thought that was pretty jaw-dropping, since they lived with me through many of my really violent stuttering years. RUTH MEAD

Thanks Ruth! For a long time, I didn’t let on that being made fun of, or ignored or any of that, bothered me, when it really did. I thought I was being strong by not admitting that I have feelings that can be hurt.
I can remember feeling stung by someone’s rude comments and feel my eyes fill up with tears, but I would hold it in and remain stoic and try to brush it off. Then when I would get to my car, or some other safe private place, the tears would fall and I would cry, and then be mad at myself for crying and being such a wimp.
Yeah, it still hurts when someone laughs at me. The real quick apology when they find out I stutter (and am not just nervous or forgot what I was going to say) doesn’t make it hurt less.

I think your response was perfect and definitely think you did the right thing. Its amazing how just by “acknowledging the elephant in the room” it can make it easier. In my case I might have started off by mentioning it so that I would be better able to focus on the meeting and what I wanted say (at least that is what I hope I would have done). I don’t like to put to many rules in place because I don’t always do the same thing. Depends on the situation I am in. Each one is different.

I think that your title is so perfect! No matter how often it happens, I’m still taken aback when I hear a particularly rude or ignorant comment. Just like Ruth mentioned, I don’t think anyone in my life actually realizes that those types of comments are hurtful, even if I don’t broadcast my feelings to everyone. I think that the people closest to us feel that if they’ve accepted our stutter, then we must have, too. That, if it doesn’t bother them…why would it bother us? I cringe when I think of how backward that logic is.

This type of thing happens to me a lot, especially when dealing with parents during parent-teacher conferences. I’ve even had a parent tell me that they don’t want me teaching their child because I can’t speak fluently at times. It’s really disheartening to hear this from parents. If this is how they’re acting, how do their children have a shot at being tolerant?


Pam, to me such situations just one more evidence that our stuttering may be big on our mind, but other people just do not think about it. They react just the way they would on anything out of ordinary. For example, I read in TM magazine about a woman with rare disorder – her vocal cords would tense on their own accord and she would suddenly talk in shrill high pitched voice. If people do not expect it, their first reaction may be laugh. I recently had to introduce myself at a party anb blocked on my name a bit – not as much as I used to, but there was a pause. The guy chuckled. i said, this was because of stuttering. He said Oh, I am sorry, you talked just fine a minute ago, I thought you forgot your name. I said – yes, my name is stil sometimes is difficult for me . And we continued talked about other matters. Of course I had to go a long way before I stopped reacted, but now it seems so ordinary that some people yes – laugh, and then they may feel really embarassed as you explain it to them. Anna

As a stutter myself, I was proud to read this story!
You handled the incident in the BEST WAY you could!!

You put the issue on the table in a proper way, and you should not feel discomfort about embarrassing this woman for her inappropriate behaviour. You stood your own ground in an inspiring way! 🙂

I receive many such reactions, sometimes I respond, sometimes not; I know that in 99% of these responses are due to embarrassment and lack of awareness. Usually when I do talk about it I do it in advance (in lectures front of a class), and in a positive way of laughing at myself or diminishing it as much as possible. But each case for itself, your response was brisk and sharp and matched exactly the event and so i proud to read this!

I think that stuttering people will always encounter these kind of cases; it’s a kind of cross that we’re bound to carry and we must face it and expose it if we like it or not; for every physical encounter between people will be verbal whether at work or leisure time, and although you believe that you’re not “here” to debate stuttering, This is something that unless you expose and explain it, it would be like a white noise in the other person’s ears while they will be too busy speculating / embarrassment / arrogance / thinking something else about the way you talk other than what you’re talking about. We must address our speech and expose it to return to normal communication and for others to really listen to what we’ve got to say.

Well done!


Thank you Ido for sharing and telling us a little about yourself as well. Isn’t it amazing that even as adults we still deal with embarassing and shameful situations, with something that shouldn’t be, but becasue speech is so basic, when we feel we can’t speak right, it becomes so intensely personal? I agree that we constantly expose ourselves when we stutter openly.
It does make desensitization easier the more we do it – but those darn feelings keep coming back!
I hope you check in here often and thanks again for sharing!

Dear Pam, being a mother of one who is dysfluent, I agree with your response and find it “odd” that you would feel guilty for appropriately putting someone in their professional place. If she were professional, my reply would not be happening right now. I have always encouraged my son, Zach, to announce in a matter-of-fact manner that he is speech dysfluent (stutters) when in a professional setting so that others are allowed the opportunity of becoming very comfortable with it because they see he is very comfortable with it. Problem solved, at least for that meeting:) Teaching the world, one person at a time, was Zach’s motto as a child.

Hi there, thanks so much for reading and responding. It’s great to hear from a parent. I guess it would seem odd that I felt guilty for putting her in her place. I think that is part of the very real complexity of stuttering – the range of emotions that we feel over something that 99% of humans just effortlessly take for granted.
I felt guilty because I felt like I had embarassed her by explaining. It’s not fair – feeling bad twice, basically. First because she laughed at me and made me feel self-conscious, and then for feeling bad for making her look bad.
I know intellectually that I had every right to put her in her place, but emotionally, as a person who stutters and who has been laughed at, teased, mocked and bullied, I guess a part of me knows how that badly that feels and I just don’t want make to feel or look bad at my expense.
It’s not right, I know – but along with stuttering, I always covered up my feelings too, and never learned how to appropriately express that I was hurt or scared or sad or angry. She made me angry that this crap still happens in the professional world and because I had to talk about stuttering in a professional meeting that had nothing to do with stuttering.
Sometimes I just don’t want to have to focus on that, just speak like everyone else does, and not have to deal with the potential that someone negatively judge me. Probably doesn’t make much sense, huh? But it’s part of the baggage some of us who stutter carry around and most people have no idea . . . . .
Again, thanks for sharing and I hope you visit this space again!

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