Burned in deeply

The next workshop that I went to was about genetics. But I’ll talk about that in a few days. First a quick story about something that happened at work.

I’ve been trying over the past year or two to really move on from being afraid of speaking due to my stutter. I’ve been stuttering more because I’ve been saying what I want to say instead of what I can say fluently.

But as those of you who stutter know, it’s very, very hard to change if you’ve been covert for so long. Those feelings of anxiety become automatic.

The other day someone from another office came to visit. He sat down right in front of me, and he knew others in our little work space. And even though I didn’t have to worry about who he was or him “taking my job” or anything like that, I was still nervous about the introduction. I was thinking about it way too much. What’s even worse is that I didn’t even have to say my name — I knew that one of the other guys would introduce me. I would hardly have to say anything either other than hello.

But still. It’s burned in very deeply. The anxiety. The reactions. The feelings.

I know that it will take time and many more interactions to break. And I’m looking forward to that day when I don’t have to think about it. But I’m not there yet.

I think this is important for anybody looking to go to therapy. You can feel some change after a month, maybe, a quarter, maybe, six months, maybe, a year, maybe. But don’t think it’ll be a big change. It doesn’t have to be. As long as it’s a step forward.

The Stuttering Professional

The second workshop that I attended was on The Stuttering Professional. It was put on by Wes Williams, who I had met at last year’s conference. As someone who works in a professional office, I was very interested in what Wes had to say. My own experience has actually been pretty good. The people in my office don’t care that I stutter (at least nobody has called me out on it saying it’s affecting my work). Nor do they mock me or try to finish my words (well, not too much anyway).

Wes handed out some exercises for us:

Share a difficult time you’ve had in the workplace. One where you’ve overcome your reluctance to speak and one where you didn’t, but wish you would have.

For me, I have a lot of both (now). For a long time it was more the latter than former. When that was the case, I’d follow up with a one-on-one talk with meeting participants to express my concerns or an e-mail to the group listing out concerns that I “thought of after the meeting.” In reality I was scribbling down copious ideas in my notebook during the meeting.

Wes also had us consider interviews and two out of three questions:

Tell me about your responsibilities in your current role
What are two situations where you’ve overcome adversity at work
Describe the most frustrating part of your job

Lastly, he laid out strategies that could be considered at work, the first set specifically for interviews.

Under disclaimers, we should point out the elephant in the room early on. Yes, we stutter, no, there’s nothing I can do about it. We can then thank them in advance for their patience. And lastly, set some guidelines. Politely tell them that if we have a block to let us finish.

Under the Delivery, Wes suggested we use the following strategies during a discussion or presentation. Don’t break eye contact — they can still see you. Avoid avoidance and say what you want to say, not just what you think you can get out. Lastly, power through. If you don’t take your time, your time will take you.

This last point was very interesting. Basically it means that we will be consumed by how long we perceive something to be taking. The more we think about how long it’s taking, the more anxious we may feel. And that will cycle and cause us to stutter more.

The first few strategies are basically ways of advertising. I’ll admit I’m not as good at them as I could be. It’s also because I’ve been in the same office with the same people for several months.

The next set is something I can work on every day. I notice that I definitely break eye contact when I’m speaking to people, and especially when I’m stuttering. I also sometimes rush through things when I could stop, breath, think, and then speak.

I really liked this workshop because Wes offered very practical advice for anybody in an office who’s facing countless interactions every day.

First NSA Workshop

Before getting into the first conference workshop, let me just say that while I’ve written about my stuttering travel experiences before (checking in, ordering Starbucks, hailing cabs) I really didn’t think about it that much this time. I just feel better about everything, and I know more and more that stuttering isn’t going to end my travels or cause any major headaches. I also know that I can just say hello and hand a passport to the counter agent. And that I’ve been through most of these airports before, so I don’t have to ask for directions. And that well, I’ll still get coffee even if it takes me an extra few seconds to say “mocha.”

I was excited to go to the first workshop – a conference icebreaker. I had worried before about how I was going to meet new people at this, my second conference. At your first conference, you can just go to the First Timer’s Workshop and BAM! All sorts of great contacts.

There was a very brief introduction to the workshop, and then we counted off to get into groups. This was funny of course, because all of us probably dreaded counting off in school at some point. I even stuttered on my number, as did a few others. And see this is what makes the NSA Conference great – right off the bat they show you that stuttering is fine. Even if it’s in front of 100 other people who you don’t know. There’s nobody to say your number for you, to laugh at you, to look at you funny. Just patience. After counting off, we separated into groups and were handed … rolls of toilet paper.

I think there were about a dozen people in our circle, and we were asked to pick off a few squares of toilet paper. I pulled off about nine, I think. Others took more and less. Then we were told that we had to provide one thing about ourselves for each square that we had. Oh my. So around we went. What was nice was listening to everybody try to come up with something about themselves – you could sort of tell that nobody was expecting this – and had anything prepared. I certainly didn’t.

I was slightly distracted by what stuttering has done to me, though. That is, prepare (and check for potential words I might stutter on) while others are going around the room sharing. Eventually it was my turn, and I was relaxed. I stuttered through my facts and didn’t mind. I said something like how it’s my second conference, I’m an engineer working in Saudi, I’ve been at my company for 11 years, I have three kids … other stuff that was pretty basic. Once that was done, we mingled, talking to each other about what we had heard during the toilet paper time.

When I was talking to a friend of mine after the conference, I mentioned this icebreaker exercise. And she said, “yeah, haven’t you ever done that before?” I guess the thing about stuttering (or maybe my career path, I suppose) is that no, I haven’t really been to a lot of conferences or workshops, period. And generally speaking at work we’re on a client site or project team, so we just get on with it. No time for office bonding per se.

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