As I noted in Part 2, in my personal experience with having a mild speech impediment, it is a pretty annoying thing to have be a part of yourself, no matter how you look at it. And, we get very misunderstood, by people who don’t know enough about this disorder.
If you are in a group setting with a stutter, (say you are leading a group conversation) you may think you are doing it in the best, most accommodating way socially and giving enough space for everyone in the room, including that of the stutterer, to express. What I want to remind you of, here, is that there are different ways, to communicate to different people. Different people, have different needs. How can you best relate with someone, that person specifically being, one who stutters, and how can you help them feel more comfortable?
Here are 5 ways, that I recommend, to interact with someone who stutters:
First, allow me to give a disclaimer. Most people hardly have any idea of the existence of speech impediments, and, moreover, how they work. They haven’t read much about them, they haven’t heard anyone’s story (such as mine) on them, perhaps they don’t have family members that are stutterers. There are numerous reasons people are unaware of it. If people have not acted according to every single one of these pointers that I’m going to give you, when they simply just lacked knowledge of the disorder (ESPECIALLY if they had no idea the person in question even had a speech disorder), I, and other stutters, are not offended or hurt.
I will tell you: stutterers get talked over, everyone gets talked over, whether or not it’s on purpose. But for a stutterer specifically, it can be extra sensitive, and something easily taken personally. We have to remember that, everyone gets interrupted sometimes, and to not take it personally and just try and deal with it, if it happens. All I will be saying here, is that there are different misunderstandings that can happen that you may not be aware of, with a stutterer, and to consider being thoughtful of that. A lot of these misunderstandings can be remedied on your accord, through your gaining of knowledge about this issue, and also, really, just letting us communicate with you about it. All I am telling you is, from the start, please just make it a goal of yours to let them know that you are, in fact, not impatient with them, you love them, and that this is a safe, judgement-free place. There are ways to achieve this, so just do the best that you can. That is all that’s ever required of anyone.
Here is my list:
- Try not to interrupt us. Not only is interrupting people rude, and something that is to be avoided, but, even doing it accidentally can inhibit a stutterers speech, and makes it harder for them to speak, and continue speaking. I didn’t mention this in Part 1, about how stuttering manifests. But, it is a thing to be aware of. When a stutterer is speaking full sentences clearly, it’s either because we’re having a great speech day, or because we have a momentum built up. Interrupting us has a big risk at breaking that momentum, and, thus, causing us to have a block. The slow-of-speech have a harder time than other people do, just quickly recovering/picking up again, and finishing talking, like the average person. Being interrupted can completely stop us in our tracks. We recognize that being interrupted happens all the time and is a part of life, I’m just telling you to be sensitive to that, and avoid it as much as you can.
- Do not tell any person that you come across, that they look nervous, even if they are. Because they could just have a speech impediment, and you commenting on them is awkward, as is pointing it out. But even if they don’t have an impediment, it is still annoying to comment on someone’s “nervousness.” If someone legitimately has a social anxiety disorder or something, that is causing nervousness, it’s probably something that embarrasses them. I feel like for some, it’s a weird, subconscious power play, to people comment on people’s nervousness towards you. Anyone’s. Don’t do it. It’s like saying “You are feeling afraid of ___ aren’t you?” It’s dumb, and we see that you’re doing it. Maybe you are joking, but if someone legitimately is feeling anxious, it’s usually not funny. There are other ways to lighten the mood.
If you think someone is nervous, and you legitimately want to help them, try helping calm them down, instead, by ignoring the nervousness, and talking to them like normal. Keep up (gentle) eye contact with them, to let them know you are attentive and listening, and that you’re looking past how they may look or sound in the moment. This will assure and ease their nervousness. Not pointing it out. Pointing it out may make them more uncomfortable. You may think solving the issue looks like pointing out the elephant in the room/an exposure method, in an attempt to lighten the mood; thinking that you are both ready to laugh it off. Also, half the time that you’re doing this, they may not even be that nervous, or, even nervous at all. Maybe they just have a speech impediment, and that’s why their voice shook a bit. Don’t assume you’re able to accurately read someone’s mood, if you don’t know them.
- (This is an especially important one) If someone is confiding in you, telling you their testimony and what they’ve struggled with, specifically, with their speech impediment, DO NOT TELL THEM you noticed that they have it. Do not tell them, “Yeah, I noticed (that they stutter)” or “Yeah, I noticed, but it’s okay”
A. When did we ask for your opinion on this matter? But while we are on this, what is okay? Who are you to tell them, it’s okay? What is okay? Is it okay that they stutter, and that they struggle?
B. Telling them that you noticed, is pointing it out. You cannot point out things that could potentially embarrass people. You just can’t. Should they be embarrassed by their impediment? No. But it is extremely rude of you to tell them you noticed, unless if we asked you if you noticed (which, we probably will not). How, do I suggest, could this be rude? It is exactly like someone who, say, chooses to open up to you about a weight “problem” (“problem” being something, in this example I am creating, that, they are choosing in that moment to personally define for themselves, to be a problem. We cannot define what exactly is a “weight problem”, for anyone else other than for ourselves, especially if we are not a doctor.) they had all their life and is still something they say they are struggling with, and you say to them “Yeah, I noticed, because you’re fat. But it’s okay.” You would NEVER say, that, would you?? Probably not. Because, yeah, that’s pretty outrageous. Do not lie, and say “I didn’t notice!” to someone who tells you about their impediment. Just like, you probably wouldn’t say “I didn’t notice!” to someone who tells you that they are lame, and that they really struggle with that idea, because they have to be in a wheelchair for the rest of their lives. “Oh, I didn’t notice you were lame, at all!”
I am simply saying, to not be up front about what you thought, unless we ask you. It’s pretty silly.
Also, hey, it doesn’t matter what you noticed, or what you thought. This story isn’t about you. When people have said to me that they noticed (and I’ve had quite a few people do this, but most of them, somehow, did not know it was an awkward thing of them to say), I’m sorry, but the only thing I’ve wanted do in that moment, was be sarcastic and make them feel as foolish, in that moment, as their statement was, by saying “Wow, look at you go, you are so smart and observant – you should be a psychologist!” Because, saying you noticed it? It’s really is such an obtuse, and vacuous thing to say. It’s not needed.
Allow me to clarify why someone wants to confide in you about their speech impediment, when they do? You may be wondering why we’re confiding in you about it. A good question. When someone is confiding in you about their impediment, they are probably telling you about their impediment because they probably knew that you noticed the stutter (or, just felt like you did), or they feel that you might be misdiagnosing; assuming you just think we are socially inept – unable to speak up at the right time (because we are slow of speech). There is no good reason to be embarrassed, or feel like you have to explain yourself to someone. To anyone. I am just telling you why we may have done that before, or, why someone might have done it to you. When they do that, their mentality is just pointing out their elephant in the room and saying “Yeah, _this_ is a thing.” In some form. However we chose. This is all, more, to make themselves feel comfortable. It helps them accept who they are (specifically in relation to you), so they don’t feel like they have to try to cover up in front of you. Otherwise they feel like they be embarrassed, if a stutter slips out, or a big block occurs. It’s a way of outing themselves, in a sense. Let them have that space, if they want it.
That’s one reason. There are two reasons why someone is confiding in you, about their impediment.
A. It’s what I just said: they are somehow feeling emotional about their problem: they’re embarrassed because they think you noticed and could me misdiagnosing the stutter as just social awkwardness (the missing of social cues, that is: awkward is a derogatory term), or they’re trying to out themselves BEFORE a stutter slips out and they BECOME embarrassed.
B. You two are simply just getting to know each other: having heart-to-heart. With B, the person “confiding” is not doing so, because they are feeling emotionally charged, they are just simply expressing a story to you. I once heard someone say: “Sometimes when I’m talking about something, I’m not being emotional, I’m just expressing the truth.” That is B.
All in all, don’t assume we’re super embarrassed or emotional about our stutter since we brought it up (if in the rare case they’re crying or something, it’s obvious they are emotional about it), but whether or not you sense that we are, or we’re not, here is the one size fits all response you need to please give to someone who just told you about their speech impediment.
Here is what you should say:
“I’m sorry. Thanks for opening up to me about that. Does it really weigh on you?” If they’re, like, crying about it, in the rare case, go: “I’m sorry, Thanks for opening up to me about that. It sounds really difficult for you.” Put your hand on their shoulder if you feel it’s appropriate. Some people aren’t a huge fan of touch.
Wait for them to either talk about it more, or, change the subject. All you are doing, is simply listening. Just listening. You’re not being counselor, telling them their problem is okay, or suggesting how to manage their problem, or etc. They may already know that they can manage with it. They might just be telling you about it. That’s it.
To be a kind person, in this instance, I think it’s fair to suggest that you need to take the focus OFF YOU, and what YOU think, what YOU saw, and put the focus on them. Because, this is THEIR story, not yours. This is what you are doing, when you are responding like this.
- Don’t finish stutterers sentences or words, unless you and them have previously talked about this, and they have told you that they would like you to help them, when they are stuck.
When you give unsolicited help in this situation, and talk over us by finishing sentences, for some of us, it does not feel like something of help, rather, it feels like you are getting impatient, and rushing us. It makes us feel uncomfortable and hideous, and like you are trying to cover us up, or take our voice, whether or not that is true of you.
I have a family member that also has a speech impediment. One time when we were in public, they had a block, and were stuck on saying a word. I said their word for them, with the intention of helping them out. But, I realized I may have upset them by doing that, and it may have not actually be of any help to him, as I would define it. I realized, that, how I define help, may not actually be the way they feel helped. What use is this “help”, then? Later I went to the person, and said (paraphrased) “Hey, I realized when we were talking to that person, I finished that word for you, is that okay with you that I did that? I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to be rude, I was just trying to help. However, do you mind when people do that? Does it actually help? I’m sorry if that felt like overstepping” They told me that, no, it was fine, and that they actually do not mind me ever filling in their words.
For me, personally, I would rather not have people fill in my words. That’s just me. Respect the stutterer for their individual wishes; do not force what you may define to be help. That is not a true spirit of help. It is our own voice, our own business. If you feel like the stutterer in your life has a very strong impediment, and you perceive them as possibly really desiring some sort of help, ask them (when you’re alone with them.) But don’t offer help unless they have confided in you about their impediment. Again, their business. A stutter is, a problem that is seen by others externally, but is actually feels like a very personal problem, to the stutterer. There is much more to a stutter, than that meets the eye. I’d like to explain a little of why this feels so personal to us. Everyone values their own voice, and, using it is one of the biggest ways they can self express. A person’s voice is indeed very personal.
Here is a little typology talk for a second: but, for those of you that are versed in the topic, perhaps the difference between the person I just spoke about, and I, is that they are ISFJ, and I am ENFP. Fi users (like ENFPs), at least, naturally, really value their individual voice in a way, that to others, may seem extreme.
As I said before, when you give unsolicited help and talk over us by finishing sentences or words, for some of us, it doesn’t feel like you are helping, rather, it feels like you are getting impatient, and rushing us. It makes us feel hideous, and like you are trying to cover us up. Out of a person’s heart, a mouth speaks. A person’s voice (whether fluent, mute, or a stutterer.. everybody has a “voice” they somehow express. It is their power) is one of the most personal things to a person. It is the closest thing to someone’s heart, and their soul. Let people have their own voice, and their self expression, whatever that may look like. Do not steal it from them.
(I feel like this is a lesson Fi users, like ENFPs, instinctually understand. Not only do they value their power, they teach others to value their own.)
- This one may be obvious, however: don’t go out of your way to ask a person with a speech impediment, about their impediment. I.e. “Hey, I noticed you stutter, is it really difficult for you to talk?” That could potentially be embarrassing. Wait for them to talk to you about their impediment, if they do.
I hope this helped you learn more about stutterers, and how to best relate to them! Thank you so much for reading and considering these things with me. I really appreciate your effort in taking the time to consider a topic that is so rarely spoken about. If you are reading this and you happen to be a stutterer, please comment! I’d love to compare notes!
Stuttering, Let’s Talk About It: Part 3