Make Room For The Stuttering

Posts Tagged ‘listener reactions to stuttering

hand-to-ear-listeningI came across something in the “Notes” section of my phone from three years ago. I obviously felt it was important enough to write down. I’m not sure what lead me to read it again this week, but it really spoke to me.

“For years, we have gone to speech therapy to change the way we speak to make it more comfortable for others. We shouldn’t have to do that anymore.”

This brought back memories of when I participated in speech therapy for the first time as an adult about ten years ago. It was traditional fluency shaping therapy with the goal of changing the way I spoke. I greatly resisted this, without even knowing I was resisting!

I found it hard to learn the “targets” and even harder to demonstrate them. It felt mechanical and clinical and I couldn’t figure out why this wasn’t working for me. I also began to feel like I was failing and I wasn’t used to failing at anything. The harder I tried to “shape my speech differently” the more I failed to do so.

Finally, I realized that the reason I wasn’t succeeding with using fluency targets was because I didn’t want to use them. I felt like creating a different way to speak really just made me covert again. And more importantly, it felt like creating a different way to speak was more for the benefit of others than for me. It seemed like I was working at changing my speech so that listeners wouldn’t be uncomfortable and so that I wouldn’t have to explain why my speech was different than the norm.

People had told me I should try to be fluent when going for job interviews and giving presentations at work. But inside, I felt like that was taking my voice away, and I had been taking my own voice and hiding it away for years. This was the beginning of my personal realization that I didn’t want or need to be fixed and that I didn’t need to conform to be like everybody else.

We don’t need to make people feel more comfortable when listening to stuttering. We all need to just be patient and present communication partners.

Have you ever considered why you participated in speech therapy? A friend recently mentioned that his employer “made him” attend speech therapy sessions because a client was having difficulty with his stuttering. Thoughts?

I came across this great phrase “living out loud” in a post I referenced on Facebook four years ago. It popped up in my memories section of Facebook today.

The article was about a high school senior who was going to give opening remarks to 2500 people at his graduation. He stutters and wasn’t letting anything stand in his way.

The headline of the article read “Tenacious grad doesn’t let fear stop him from living out loud.” I remember thinking how much I liked that phrase, particularly about someone who stutters.

How many of us have lived silently, below the radar, taking a backseat at school or work because of our stutter? How many of us have let fear of possible negative social reaction hold us back from doing something we really want to do? How many of us have been told we couldn’t do something because we stutter and we believed that and took it to heart?

I did all of those things for a long time when I tried, unsuccessfully, to hide my stuttering. I let people’s negative reactions affect the way I thought about myself and purposely chose to stay in the background. I thought that was safer and I wouldn’t be subjected to other people’s ridicule or negative beliefs about me.

But it wasn’t safer. I was compromising my self respect and authenticity by pretending I didn’t want to be involved in life’s moments. I desperately wanted to be involved. I had a voice and it yearned to be heard, repetitions, shakes and all.

I wasted many years being silent and pretending that I was OK with that. Over the last nine years, I have made up for lost time. I let my voice be heard. I don’t let anyone silence me. I don’t choose silence. I am living out loud and letting people hear my unique voice.

I challenge you to do the same. Let your voice be heard. Take a chance and say yes when someone asks you to do a talk or presentation or participate in a conference call. Go on job interviews with the confidence that you’ll be memorable and that people value your abilities. Talk to your child’s teachers, make your own phone calls and don’t let anyone tell you that you can’t do anything because of your speech.

Live Out Loud.

 

So often, I read on social media about people who stutter being frustrated that they stuttered. People share posts that they had a bad day because they blocked on every word during a presentation. Or they didn’t order what they wanted at a restaurant because they couldn’t say the word lettuce that day.

Some people describe an upcoming speaking situation they have and how nervous they are that they are going to stutter. They ask for good luck to be sent their way. They hope for fluency.

We who stutter are so quick to describe our bad days – stuttered out of control, stuttered really bad, or didn’t finish speaking before someone interrupted or walked away.

We might beat ourselves up for how we’ve reacted to our stuttering moments. That’s something I continue to work on. I often stutter and then feel embarrassed, and then beat myself up for being embarrassed. I’ve heard and read similar from others who often second guess what they should have done or how they should have reacted to their stuttering. I guess it’s just human nature to commiserate with each other.

So, given all this, what then constitutes a good speech day? Is it when we don’t stutter?

I don’t think it can be that, since as people who stutter, we stutter. Right? We’re going to stutter every day.

I’d like to suggest that a good speech day is when we’ve said everything we’ve wanted to say, stutter and all. We got through our presentation, we had the important talk with our boss, we ordered what we wanted at the restaurant. And we stuttered.

I think conveying our message and getting our point across in the way we talk, as stutterers, is important. That can be our measure of success, instead of trying to be unrealistic and hope that we don’t stutter.

What do you think?

 

 

PamEpisode 152 features CiCi Adams, who hails from Pennsylvania, but is presently living in Brooklyn, New York. CiCi is a journalist at People Magazine and enjoys writing, dance and eating lots of Chinese food.

Listen in as we discuss what’s helped her to be OK with stuttering, how she handles interviews at work, interacting with other people who stutter and so much more.

CiCi is a member of the NYC National Stuttering Association chapters and talked about the one day conference that NSA NYC is sponsoring in May.

And Cici blogs. She wants her blog to grow. Please check her out at The Plight of the Stuttering Journalist and let her know you’ve visited by leaving a comment.

This was a great conversation with yet another amazing woman. I feel so lucky to be able to host this podcast. My life has been enriched by all of these women’s stories.

The music clip used in today’s episode is credited to ccMixter.

It is very interesting to review the words we use to describe stuttering. Very often, the words are negative or paint a negative image in the mind. Words like “disabled,” “disorder” and “debilitating.” When we use these words along with the word “stuttering” we get an image in our mind that there must be something wrong with the person.

It’s not often that we hear positive words to describe stuttering, like “successful,” “strong” and “confident.” But there are many successful, strong and confident people who stutter. We just don’t always know that based on the words that are often chosen to describe stuttering.

A prominent writer in the stuttering community, Katherine Preston, blogs for The Huffington Post and Psychology Today. She has a great piece out Tuesday, titled Stuttering and the Power of Suggestion. In it, she examines how the power of suggestion paints those negative or positive images in the minds of people trying to understand stuttering.

If negative words are chosen for the description, people will naturally think of stuttering as negative, a challenge, or as a deficit. This then clouds the perception we have of the actual person who stutters.

If positive words are chosen for the description, then we view the person who stutters in a positive light. We can see the person from a reference of strength and confidence.

The words we use are important. If we who stutter use negative words to describe our stuttering, how can we expect any differently of the people we are interacting with. It’s important to make a mind shift and re-frame our stuttering into positive words whenever possible.

Words make a big difference.

Whenever I advertise my stuttering, I always reassure people it’s OK to ask me to repeat something if they didn’t understand it due to my stuttering.

I often wonder why I do that. Why would I want to risk stuttering again on the same word or phrase and perhaps have the listener still not understand? And have somebody ask me to repeat it yet again.

This has happened to me a couple of times and it’s pretty uncomfortable.

I pride myself on being upfront about stuttering and I encourage people to ask questions. But when someone actually asks me to repeat myself and indeed I do that – repeat myself, or get stuck in a block – it can be embarrassing.

This happened yesterday when I was talking with a small group of students about school program options. I mentioned that I stutter and for them to feel free to ask me to repeat anything they did not understand.

I was having a stutter-y day and of course had a lot of repetitions. One girl shyly asked me to repeat myself and I did, stuttering on the same words I did the first time. She nodded and said thank you. I’m not sure if she was just being polite or if she really did understand me, but I didn’t think so.

But I let it go. I didn’t want to stutter yet a third time on the same phrase and didn’t want to make the girl feel uncomfortable. I was worried that she might be thinking she was embarrassing me.

Isn’t it funny the self-talk we have with ourselves?

Has this ever happened to you? Do you ever offer to repeat something and then regret it? Because you’re really repeating it?

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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