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People who stutter often have difficulties knowing when to join in a conversation already going on. We’re not sure when to interject and we want to make sure that by doing so, we are not interrupting. And of course we worry about stuttering and going to say something and have nothing come out.

I recently read a Forbes article titled Nine Things That Make You Unlikeable. I really don’t like the title but the article does outline things you can do to make yourself more approachable and to better engage our interpersonal skills.

One of the sections was on how to be successful in conversations, whether we are initiating one or joining in on one. The key is to be sure to ask enough questions.

The biggest mistake people make in conversation is being so focused on what they are going to say next that they don’t focus on what is being said. Sound familiar? People who stutter do this a lot – we are rehearsing what we are going to say next and employing strategies so that we won’t stutter. Or at least we try to! But we miss out on what the person is actually saying because we fail to hear while we’re concentrating on ourselves.

A simple way to avoid this is to ask a lot of questions. People like to know you’re listening and something simple as a clarification question shows not only that you’re listening but that you also care about what the other person is saying.

The article states that you’ll be surprised by how much respect and appreciation you gain just by asking questions.

I think asking questions is a great way to join in and sustain a conversation. It gives the other person more time to talk and you can ease up and really listen to what they have to say. For stutterers, and anybody for that matter, asking questions will probably take less time and make for a more enjoyable conversation.

What do you think? Can you see how asking questions can help you become a better conversationalist?

You could also see the added benefit of being more “likeable.”

 

 

 

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Yesterday I answered the phone at work and stuttered on the name of the school I work at, as I often do. The caller immediately laughed and asked, “Did you forget where you work? Do you really wish you were at the pool?” For an instant, I felt that sinking feeling I get when I’ve been made fun of and I sensed my shoulders tighten and my face flush.

I sighed and then quickly said, “No, I stutter. Sometimes that happens.” The caller then gasped a little and apologized. She then paused and proceeded to tell me where she was from and what she wanted. She was from one of our district’s schools and needed some information which I was able to help her with.

She thanked me and apologized again. When we were done with the call, she wished me a good day and apologized a third time.

When I got off the phone, I was pissed. Not how I handled it, but that it happened. It still stuns me that grown adults react this way when someone stutters. I know she probably had no clue that I was a stutterer and thought she was making a joke. But still, not knowing who is answering the phone, a professional should not laugh like that and make matters worse by asking a dumb question.

I was happy I advocated for myself (and others!) by stating that I stutter and that stuttering happens sometimes. I feel she may have been embarrassed and I did not intend to embarrass her, but simply wanted to explain what she was hearing and that I hadn’t forgot where I worked.

I know this has happened to many of us who stutter. How do you react?

I had a wonderful opportunity to teach employees at a Fortune 500 company in NYC about stuttering last week. Three of us from the National Stuttering Association (NSA) spent about 90 minutes teaching basic stuttering 101 to employees who had volunteered to conduct mock interviews with people who stutter.

George, Chaya and myself (all three of us people who stutter) presented about what stuttering is, what it isn’t, whether there is a cause and cure, the variability of stuttering, common misconceptions, stuttering and effective communication and why people who stutter make good employees.

George had organized the “Mock Interview Day” at his workplace and had 15 people who stutter signed up to participate in interviews with company employees. The day included training the employees on interacting with people who stutter, 2 mock interviews for each candidate, feedback for the candidates, a panel discussion on differences and coming out in the workplace and networking.

The primary reason this day was so successful was that the employees were genuinely interested and receptive to learning about stuttering and for giving people who stutter the opportunity to sharpen their interview skills in a supportive environment.

Several employees that I spoke with mentioned how helpful it was to have learned some basic information about stuttering before doing the interviews. They found it very impactful to hear from people who stutter who were able to share facts and personal experience.

I was thrilled to have been part of the day. I love talking about stuttering to whoever will listen and we had a great audience on this day. The interview candidates felt it was a great day and they appreciated the time people took to make the event a success.

Over pizza at the end of the day, one woman who stutters approached me to talk . She was raving about how helpful the interviews were to her. She said she felt inspired to do something similar at her workplace to “give back.” We brainstormed a bit and left it that she was going to talk to someone in her HR department and I was going to follow up with her with an email early in the week. How inspiring is that? I would love to see future events held at companies all over. Such learning took place.

As I traveled home on the train, I reflected on how lucky I am that I “get to” talk to people who don’t stutter and teach them about the experience. Teaching people one person at a time creates a world that better understands stuttering. I am so happy to be a part of this.

 

I was talking to a friend of mine recently and she asked me about the different types of stuttering. I was intrigued by what she meant so asked her to elaborate. She said she has heard other people stutter and it’s very different than mine. She wanted to know why there were such differences.

I gave her the short answer – stuttering is variable. Severity of stuttering differs among individuals who stutter as does the impact of stuttering. A person can have a severe blocking type of stuttering and stutter or block on almost every speech attempt but it doesn’t bother them at all. Then you can have someone with a very mild stutter who is mortified every time they hear themselves stutter.

I told her there are also covert stutterers – those who clearly stutter but go to great lengths to hide it so they can appear as fluent. I told my friend that I did this for about 30 years and was absolutely miserable from the extra energy it took to hide and the feeling that I was being fraudulent by not letting my true self be seen. I also told her about the terror I always felt that my secret would be found out. She wondered how I managed for so long, and I told her about the various tricks that people who covertly stutter use to not stutter.

I told her about word substitution, little tricks like coughing, getting a running start, saying “ah” or “um” a lot or just plain choosing silence. I explained it was a lot like mental gymnastics to keep that up,

Stuttering is also variable for an individual. Fluency can vary significantly over the course of a day, hour, minute and depending what kind of speaking situation the person is facing. I can be very fluent for 30 minutes and then, seemingly like a drop of a hat, can’t get a word out. I’ll start blocking or repeating words or syllables and express frustration and even display some secondary behaviors, such as squeezing my eyes closed.

For some people who stutter, fatigue, stress and time pressure can increase their stuttering. And if a stutterer feels compelled to hide their stuttering, it can get generally more pronounced. The harder you try not to stutter, the more you’ll stutter.

My friend was amazed that I knew so much about stuttering and the different ways it can be seen and heard. She wanted to know where I learned all this.

I simply said, “I’ve lived it. Personal experience is the best teacher.”

Yet another good workshop I attended at the recent NSA conference in Dallas was on workplace advocacy for those who stutter. The workshop was facilitated by two individuals who are working on a committee with me to increase workplace advocacy efforts and reduce the stigma of stuttering in the workplace. Hope is a speech language pathologist and a candidate for a doctoral degree and John is a person who stutters who has had great success in the workplace.

The workshop focused on audience discussion about what ideas we as a community have for reducing stigma around stuttering in the workplace. People came up with a lot of good ideas that our NSA committee will try to implement over the coming months.

The workshop also provided some statistics on stuttering and labor market outcomes. Both men and women who stutter made at least $7,000 less in annual earnings than men and women who don’t stutter. For women who don’t stutter, some evidence indicates the gap in earnings may be as large as $18,000. Those are big differences and certainly warrant increased workplace advocacy efforts.

The most common suggestion people made in the workshop was around networking. People who stutter believe that our networks will help us find jobs and that is true. Everyone, stutterer or not, should talk to people they know in the field, get references and recommendations and use networks such as LinkedIn to help with the job search process.

But I think there is more that needs to be done around workplace advocacy for stuttering. My vision is that employers understand stuttering and teach employees about stuttering just as they do about other differences in diversity and inclusion training. My hope is that the NSA will become a resource and support network for employers, not just for employees that stutter. More to come on that as our committee continues to expand our vision and sink our teeth into tangible outcomes for advocacy.

What are your thoughts on workplace advocacy for people who stutter? Do you think employers will find it useful to receive guidance and training from the NSA? How do you think we should go about doing that?

 

Be the changeOne of the great workshops that I attended at last week’s NSA conference was one facilitated by Kim Block on “Stuttering Community and Social Justice.” Kim asked the audience thought provoking questions about the group identity of the stuttering community and if we even have a group identity.

She got us thinking about the intersections between various segments of the stuttering community, such as people who stutter, speech and medical professionals, stuttering organizations, media and our allies. Kim asked us to do an exercise imagining the stuttering community as a business and how the different “departments” are linked together. She asked if we work together or in isolation as silos.

That bit about the silo got me thinking. Do the various entities in the stuttering community really work together? We know that the media does not always portray stuttering in a positive light. How could people who stutter, SLP’s, schools and our allies work together to influence the media to convey stuttering positively to the fluent world? In my humble opinion, I think that more people who stutter need to speak out and help educate those who do not stutter. That’s something that we as a community need to keep working on, since many people who stutter don’t like to expose that they stutter.

Kim’s workshop went on to challenge us to think about the elements of social justice: equality, oppression, resources and human rights. Do we have equality in the mainstream world? Do we have equal access to resources like speech therapy and self-help support groups? Are we discriminated against in schools and the workplace? Do stuttering organizations have equal access to fundraising like other organizations do?

The workshop was very well attended for the last slot of the last day. People shared good ideas and the questions spurred good conversation. Kim concluded with her final thoughts which all members of the stuttering community should heed. We are all advocates, we are all group interventionists, we are all connected which gives us opportunity and power.

It’s up to us, the stuttering community, whether and how we use that power. There are opportunities to raise awareness, which would lessen discrimination and misinformation. Members of the stuttering community have to seize those opportunities.

 

 

 

I just returned last night from the 2017 NSA annual conference held in Dallas, Texas. I spent a week with some of the bravest, most resilient people I know. I’ve got lots of special moments to reflect on and share, but thought I’d start by providing a recap of the workshop good friend and SLP Charley Adams and I facilitated. We titled it – “Hide and Speak: The Allure of Covert Stuttering.”

We both wanted to explore the reasons why some people who stutter choose to hide and keep on hiding, even when it perhaps jeopardizes their authenticity. We started out loosely defining what covert stuttering is, and Charley led us through the life cycle of stuttering. This was a good primer for some of the people who were at the conference for the first time.

We then talked about escape behaviors, or what we actually do to hide our stuttering. Then we discussed secondary behaviors and the tricks we use to appear fluent. Later we talked about the degrees of covertness we may have and ways to gradually “drop the C” and aim to move from covert to overt.

One of the highlights of the workshop was an exercise I used in a previous workshop on covert stuttering. People were asked to pair up with a partner and each pair was given a copy of a one minute monologue to read to each other. On the bottom of the page was a large letter “O” or “I.” This signified that anywhere in the monologue that the reader ran across a word with the letter “O” in it, they couldn’t say it, but rather they had to replace it with a word with similar meaning and that also didn’t have the letter “O” in it. Then the other person in the pair had to do the same thing regarding the letter “I.”

It was an eye-opening exercise for people, especially for those in the room that did not stutter. People shared that they felt anxious, frustrated, drained, exhausted and that some gave up and didn’t finish reading. People who stuttered described the same reactions. The exercise was designed to illustrate how mentally hard it is to constantly have to switch words and think of other ones that made sense in the context of what was being discussed. All agreed that it was a valuable teaching tool.

Many people shared their experiences with hiding and we talked about how seductive hiding successfully can really be. People who covertly stutter often feel a thrill when they get away with not being exposed as a stutterer and it sets up as a pattern that is continued.

It was a great workshop. Charley and I got a lot of very positive feedback afterwards, and it definitely spurred good conversation and a different way of understanding covert stuttering. We also had over 120 people in attendance, which was an outstanding turnout.

Throughout the week and next week, I will share more about some of the special conference moments and provide an overview of other workshops.

Next year’s conference will be in Chicago. Start planning now to go. It’s worth it.

 


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© Pamela A Mertz and Make Room For The Stuttering, 2009 - 2017. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Pamela A Mertz and Make Room For The Stuttering with appropriate and specific direction to the original content. Same protection applies to the podcasts linked to this blog, "Women Who Stutter: Our Stories" and "He Stutters: She Asks Him." Please give credit to owner/author Pamela A Mertz 2017.