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.

Getting older and stuttering

What I’ve been seeing a lot on Facebook lately is a lot of younger people who stutter worrying a lot about their future.

For the record, I was too naive to realize that stuttering would be a lifelong problem. Being covert for such a long time, I figured I could just keep on doing it, and everything would be fine.

What I’d say to a younger person who stutters is that it can get better with the right attitude change. That’s what takes a long time.

The basis for the change is simple and can be spelled out in three aspects:

1. The people who matter don’t care that you stutter
2. The only way to know if something horrid is going to happen is to open your mouth
3. The horrid consequences that you foresee happening when you stutter don’t happen

I’ve mentioned these things before.

What happens as you age is that you simply have more data. You talk more. You see what happens when you stutter. You see how people react. Over months and months and years and years, you see that at the end of the day, it’s us who need to open our mouths again and again and not be afraid of what happens.

We also get more patient as we age. We listen more. We consider our words carefully, and find out if we stutter on one or two (instead of avoiding them) our message becomes more clear. Our listener becomes better engaged and informed. A trust develops amongst our friends.

Is it an overnight process? Heavens no. Does it require work? Yes. Does that mean sitting in your room by yourself for hours on end reading out loud? Maybe. Does it mean not hesitating to open your mouth when you want to say something? Definitely.

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