Make Room For The Stuttering

The Poor Listener

Posted on: December 14, 2015

How many times have you encountered a situation where a listener reacted negatively in some way to your stuttering? He or she either laughed, rolled their eyes, spoke over you or interrupted, or mimicked you.

When this happens, the person who stutters often winds up feeling angry, ashamed or hurt. I know when this has happened to me I often walk away from the situation feeling like a failure. I often rethink the scenario countless times and wonder what I could have done to make it easier or better. I automatically assume the “failed” speaking situation was my fault. When I say “failure,” I mean that the speaking situation was not a positive, two way engagement. To me, that’s what communication is all about, two way engagement.

I can remember a situation from well over a month ago now where I was giving a presentation to a group of 10th grade students. Mostly everyone in the audience was 15 years old. 15 year old students are immature and don’t have the longest attention span, but I did expect a certain degree of respect and decent behavior as I was a “guest speaker” in the class.

As I was talking, I noticed one girl having a really hard time composing herself. She was laughing and trying to cover it up. She continued to laugh with her hands over her mouth, trying to stifle the laugh, but unsuccessfully. She kept glancing over at another kid who grinned but managed to keep himself composed.

This girl was clearly laughing at me and making me very uncomfortable. After about 10 minutes, I stopped and “called her out.” I asked if she was OK and if she maybe needed to get a drink of water or move her seat. She said she was fine, but I stated that I noticed she was laughing the whole time I was talking and was there something funny about my presentation. She said everything was fine but looked embarrassed that I had called her on her behavior.

I felt better after addressing it the way I did. I was able to go on with my presentation, but did notice when I glanced her way that she was still laughing and had her hand over her mouth. I tried to chalk it up to her being 15 and very immature.

As I’ve thought about this, I’ve come to the conclusion that I hadn’t done anything wrong or that was so funny that it warranted laughter. No, I concluded that this girl was just a poor listener.

Poor listeners abound. People who stutter and fluent people alike encounter people who are poor listeners. We see them not paying attention, trying to speak over the person speaking and not making eye contact. Active listening requires that we be present with the speaker, that we take turns and that we make eye contact. Listening is a very big part of communication. It’s a two way street.

When we encounter a poor listener, it’s really important that we don’t take it personally and think it’s our fault for the poor speaking situation just because we stutter. It might have absolutely nothing to do with that at all. Or it might. If possible, be assertive and say something to the listener that you notice that he or she is not paying attention and is there something you can do to help him. Although this might make you “gulp” a bit, being assertive will help lessen any negative self-talk you might take away from the encounter.

Because we do not have to take anything negative from a speaking encounter. If we speak and stutter, it’s up to the listener to be a good listener. They have that responsibility in two way communication.

 

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