Action for Stammering Children Day 1

Last week Action for Stammering Children put up posts on Twitter regarding stammering. These were quotes by children, teenagers and therapists on stammering and how to build confidence. I wanted to look at them and give my own thoughts on each. I’ll be doing one per week — they posted five, and they can be found on twitter @StammerCentre and by searching for #stammeringtips.

So the first one is, “People are more interested in what you have to say than how you are saying it

One of the nice experiences I’ve had since moving to Saudi is the respect. You simply get more if you are a Westerner. The premise is simple — you have been hired because you have the expertise and knowledge to help the company or project. The way we do things in the West is considered more sophisticated, and imparting that know-how is important.

So what happened to me when I started going to more meetings here — meetings with my engineers and clients — was that as soon as I started talking, everybody got quiet and started to listen. It was a bit unsettling at first, really. But then I figured it out. Did I stutter? Oh sure, lots. But everybody just sat there, staring at me, hanging on my every word. This guy knows! Listen to him! At least that’s what I’d like to think.

Sadly, thinking about it more, I realize that before coming here, people would listen to me because … well, I didn’t talk that much in the office or in meetings. Because I was covert! And knew I’d stutter. So if I had something to say, it was startling to them. And it must have been important if the quiet guy is speaking up!

But most importantly, I’ve learned that friends and loved ones don’t care about your stutter at all. If you ask them about it, they’ll tell you that, “I don’t hear you stutter when you talk.” And why is that? It’s because they’re listening. They want to hear the message, hear your feeling, and make a connection. You listen to them, and they listen to you. That’s the point of family and friends, right?

Listening to my Stutter

What would make all the feelings go away — fear, loathing, shame, embarrassment — if the stuttering never goes away? A perfect listener? What would I want?

The important thing to remember is that it’d have to be a blanket deal. I mean, everybody at once would have to do this, and I’d have to know that everybody is on board. So what would I want?

Patience. Don’t finish my sentence, no matter who you are. Don’t look at the person standing in line behind me. Don’t look away like I don’t know what I’m talking about. Don’t start on some weirdo-smile and try to stifle laughter. Don’t sigh heavily and look down at the ground.

Like I said yesterday, I know, deep down, that this isn’t “special treatment.” Because it’s how I treat everybody who I talk with. So I’d just want the same thing.

If I know that people are never going to react negatively to my stutter, then I create a positive feedback loop. The stuttering happens, I don’t feel bad, they don’t say anything, and I get my message across. That will give me the comfort and confidence to engage people in the future on speaking occasions.

Will we ever spend interaction after interaction with our perfect listener? Nope. If you can string two in a row, that’s quite an achievement. So we’re left with educating. Advertising. Sending links.

A few months ago the ice bucket challenge was going around. It was to raise awareness for ALS. Did you know anything about ALS before the ice bucket challenge? I didn’t know a thing. A cycling buddy explained it all to me on a ride during the height of the challenge. Do we need to do something similar with stuttering? Maybe. Maybe not. The King’s Speech certainly helped when it came out, but we have to keep on reminding people. Because we have to keep on talking. Every day.

Even though the world won’t wake up tomorrow and become perfect listeners, we can work toward surrounding ourselves with them. We can slowly make inroads to our family, friends, and coworkers. Our instances of embarrassment and fear will lessen. We can come out more if we’ve been covert. We can brush off a stumble here and there.

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.

Smoothing out the posting schedule

In an effort to smooth things out a bit here, I think I ought to tell you what’s on the docket for this week. That’ll keep me honest with regards to posting.

1. That Huffington Post article about not finishing sentences. I wonder if those of us who stutter finish the sentences of fluent people? And what about when English isn’t the first language?

2. What does your perfect listener do? We all dread opening our mouths when it comes to talking to strangers, so what would you really like? Do you just want them to be patient, or do you want them to know more about stuttering itself?

3. How much do you consciously experiment with your stutter and speech? Do you do funny voices while alone? Speed things up? Slow things down? Does any of it help?

4. What I’m stuttering on lately

5. Link roundup! I’m getting way behind on this …

<span>%d</span> bloggers like this: