A Stuttering Drop of Ink

The best way I can put this is with a drop of ink. Let’s say red. A cup of water. You know what happens. The ink goes in the water, the water changes color. All of it. Is it what I wanted?

I had to talk to one of the senior guys at the company today about some lists. I had a few really quick questions. We went through it, I didn’t stutter much. No big deal. But then I was really curious about something. And I wanted to ask him. So I did.

It was a total mess. Totally incoherent, got stuck on almost every word, he looked at me patiently, finished maybe one or two words (I really didn’t mind at that point).

Did I say what I wanted to say? Definitely not. Did I communicate what I wanted to? Sort of maybe?

It’s like the drop of ink. You should take the drop and use it in a pen. Write words. Draw a sketch.

The drop or blob of ink was shoved out. It was sent out in the hope that it could be understood even though it didn’t have the right pen or brush. Actually, you know what? It ended up being like that thing you do in elementary school where you drop ink all over the place and then blow it with a straw to make a tree. Except you wanted to draw a flaming truck powered by rockets jumping over the Grand Canyon.

After a few stuck phrases, he got up and started diagramming on a white board, “I think I know what you’re asking for.” And he did. Was I grateful? Very much so. But was it a success?

It’s hard to say. Yes? The thing is, I didn’t have to ask him that question (or try to). I probably should have been better prepared. I probably should have taken a deeper breath up front, or maybe stood up, or had something on paper to reference.

Then there’s the whole finishing-your-sentences aspect. He didn’t just do that, put he finished entire thoughts. Took a few keywords, squinted, and started drawing on the white board. Is that a win? He didn’t just dismiss me and tell me to figure out what I wanted to say. Or send him an e-mail. Or ask someone else. So there’s an element of respect, too.

Finishing my Stuttering

I’ve been wanting to comment on this HuffPo article that’s been out for a while on why you shouldn’t finish the sentence of a person who stutters.

I wholeheartedly agree with everything that’s said, particularly this part:

While I appreciate the effort, sometimes it makes me feel a bit worse, which seems counterintuitive. Instead of feeling relieved that they jumped in and played superhero and saved the day, I feel a sense of unease, of discomfort. I understand that they are trying to help, but even though they think they’re being supportive by finishing a sentence for me — or for anyone else who stutters — it doesn’t help.

I think though that it’s really audience-dependant. On the one hand, no, I don’t want you finishing my sentences. On the other, if you’re a senior person at my company, and you decide to finish a word of mine here and there, I’m not going to jump down your throat about it. That’s somewhat career-limiting. I’ve been humiliated by my stuttering before, so I know the drill.

(Aside: I stuttered really hard this morning with a very senior guy at work. He finished a word or two. I stuttered through a whole conversation with him — that I had initiated. That I could have just summarized in an e-mail. I felt rushed, I felt foolish at times, I felt myself covered in sweat. But … I did dive in on my own. So despite the heavy stuttering and the occasional finished word, I’d call it a win.)

It’s also interesting here in Saudi where English isn’t everybody’s native language. So occasionally I’ll be in a meeting, and one non-native English speaker will finish another’s sentence (both are fluent). The idea is that they might just need a little nudge with the words, and they just want to get on with it. I suppose there’s a chance that (based on my appearance) I might not be a non-native English speaker as well.

On another practical note, when you finish my sentence, it also disrupts the general flow. I was about to say the word (no, really) and then was going to pause, take a breath, and … but you finished. So now there’s this gap, and I’m not ready for it. So I try to say a word, but I’ve forgotten to take a breath. So I’m stuck, there’s an awkward silence, you’re not focusing on me, I’m losing the other person listening, I’m fumbling for another word, you’re back to this guessing game, I’m getting dismayed, and …

The other question is — am I allowed to finish a word or sentence of someone who’s fluent? Does that set a precedence? Do people even notice those things? Should I just not do that at all and be patient instead? It’s a tricky game.

I think this article is great in that it presents this idea to people who know nothing about it. So if they hear someone stuttering, they’ll say, ok, I’ll just wait and listen. What I’d like to know though is really, how would you even broach the subject? Like at work? Do you tell your whole department? A few people here and there when it comes up? What do you say?

You know what stuttering does to your head? It makes you think things like: “If I send them this article, I almost feel like I’m asking for special treatment.”

Look, I know fundamentally that I’m not asking for special treatment. I’m only asking for patience and understanding. But sometimes that covert me manages to pop his head up and take over a few relationships. Changing that will take time.

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