Make Room For The Stuttering

Posts Tagged ‘negative connotations of stuttering

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.

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?

My good friend Nina G, who is an amazing role model for “differently-abled” people, including people who stutter, found this blog post called Procrastination: Do You Stutter or Stammer? The author tries to correlate procrastination to stuttering or stammering.

The name of the blog is Change Your Thoughts, Change Your Life, and focuses on re-framing negative self-talk into ways to make positive changes in our lives.

Good stuff! Everybody has negative self-talk that can consume us if we let it. It’s always good to find ways to re-think things so we don’t get and stay “stuck.”

Except when we find the use of the words stuttering or stammering to imply something negative, that needs to be fixed or changed.

Here’s the comment I wrote on Mike Reeves-McMillan’s post. Figured I’d put it here, in case they don’t publish it!

What about those of us who really stutter? It’s not quite so simple unfortunately. I am a fast talker and a fast thinker – and I stutter. Have since I began talking. And I am an amazing communicator. I don’t procrastinate more than the average person, I don’t “stop” and “start” with my speech. I just happen to stutter sometimes, as do 1% of the adult population here in the United States (about 3 million of us) and 1% in the UK as well, and worldwide in fact. That’s a lot of people!

We are not intellectually or emotionally impaired, nor are we nervous, anxious, shy or withdrawn. What we are is this: fed up with people who casually use the words “stuttering” or “stammering” to convey a negative connotation. Sports teams get off to “stuttering starts.” A nervous teenager on his first date “stammers” hello. Employees on interviews should take care not to “stutter or stammer” their way through the first question, or risk making an indelible negative first impression.

I am all for people such as yourself selling books to help people manage their time better or figure out what obstacles exist that result in procrastination, which afflicts all of us at some point in our life.

For those of us who stutter (as it is routinely referred to here in the U.S.) or stammer (as it is routinely referred to in Europe), it is not a routine fix. Many of us struggle every day against negative social consequences, educational and vocational discrimination and exclusion. I stutter and I am very successful! I stutter and am actively involved in Toastmasters! I stutter and help people every day! I stutter and work with youth and young adults! I stutter and live and work and play in the same world as everyone else! And it’s OK!

What do you think about the use of the word “stuttering” or “stammering” when relating it to something that can be perceived as negative?

Let me know what you think!


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