Make Room For The Stuttering

Posts Tagged ‘eye contact and stuttering

Recently in a Stutter Social hangout, we were having a good discussion about eye contact. We discussed the importance of eye contact, what it conveys and why it can be hard for a person who stutters to maintain eye contact.

I believe that maintaining eye contact when talking to someone is very important. It shows that you are engaged, present and that the person you are talking to is important. Eye contact does not mean staring at a person the whole time you’re talking. Rather, it means holding contact for a moment or two while the person is talking and then alternating your gaze while you are talking.

Gazing or staring at someone for a long time can be unnerving, even a little creepy. It is awkward and can make one or both parties feel uncomfortable. That’s why it’s sometimes hard to gauge how long it’s appropriate to hold eye contact with someone who is stuttering.

A person can be caught in a long block. Do you hold eye contact with them until they get the word out? Might it be uncomfortable for them? What should you do if the person breaks eye contact? Do you follow suit? It can be tricky because you want to be respectful and show you are present but you don’t want to cause an uncomfortable moment. Or longer than a moment – depending how long a person’s block is.

It might be best to ask a person who stutters what they would like you to do if they get stuck, if you and she are comfortable enough to talk about it.

It’s also important to note that sometimes use of the eyes is a secondary behavior of stuttering for the person who stutters. I have long known that one of the things I do when I block is squeeze one or both eyes closed for a moment. Sometimes I know I’m doing it – others times it happens quite automatically and unconsciously.

When we were talking about eye contact in the hangout conversation, someone remarked that I am definitely an eye closer. He was observing people in the video chat to see how we handle eye contact when we’re stuttering. He said some of us were “eye closers” and some of us were “look aways.” It was interesting to see how he could observe and determine that in a matter of just moments.

I think I close my eyes when stuttering for two reasons. I try to force out the word I am stuck on. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t! The other reason I think is that I am embarrassed or self-conscious about the block and don’t want to see the other person’s reaction. I worry that I’ll see pity, negativity or laughter in the person’s eyes and closing my eyes helps me to avoid that negative reaction.

I am confident in my stuttering. But I concede that I definitely have my moments when a secondary behavior pops up. Like I said, sometimes I’m aware, and sometimes I’m not and it just happens automatically.

What do you think about eye contact? And do you close your eyes or look away?

Yesterday I had a really big blocking moment while talking with a co-worker one-on-one. I had facilitated a staff training earlier in the day, for six hours, with a group of about 15.

For most of that time, I was fairly fluent. Meaning, I had some stuttered moments, but they didn’t bother me and I continued to move forward with my speech. Just once or twice, I was aware of blocking, but I didn’t let it bother me, as everyone in my group knows I stutter. I don’t make any efforts to hide it at work.

Afterwards, I was in my office, winding down, catching up on emails and voice mail. A co-worker came in to chat for a few minutes and ask about a meeting we have been trying to schedule.

While talking, I attempted to say something that began with “r” and couldn’t get it out. I got stuck like, “ruh-ruh–ruh-ruh-ruh-ruh . . . . . ” for what seemed like at least 60 seconds. I maintained eye contact with her, as did she, until I broke and looked down. It was then that I managed to forcefully push the word out.

I was so conflicted by this! I felt bad, like I had given in by breaking eye contact. But it didn’t seem natural to maintain eye contact for that long. Kind of like the staring game, who is going to give in first.

I’ll give my co-worker credit – she hung in with me, stayed in the moment and didn’t try to finish my word for me. And she maintained eye contact.

Once I broke contact and finally got the word out, our conversation continued. Neither of us made any reference to what had just happened.

It was one of the longest blocks I have had and I felt very self-conscious, which makes no sense. She already knew I stutter. It must have been because I felt so vulnerable.

Has this ever happened to you?


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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.