Your coworker has a stutter. What does that mean for you?

  Remember that time in elementary school when your friend had some trouble producing their name or couldn’t get the words out if they got mad? Well, chances are that person grew out of their stutter the same way they grew out of their dirty Keds and bowl haircut. But some people didn’t grow out of it and had to deal with it at every stage of life after that…the stutter not the bad haircut. We hopefully all left the 90’s in the 90’s.   I am fairly new to the work world, so I am still learning what this adult life is all about (I have stock options? How much credit is good credit? Why is cheese so expensive? Can I still call my dad because I don’t know if I actually got a call from the IRS and need to wire $1,000 to a Somali prince?) This entirely new way of life has come with many surprises, for example: No, I don’t need to wire $1,000 to a Somali prince. But, the most surprising lesson of them all is how ignorant we are to speech impediments.   I have had a slight stutter my long life of 24 years, but I never saw a negative impact on my life. Until about two months ago, while I was trying to make a sale (the operative word being trying). A large portion of my job is spent cold calling executives and convincing them to meet with me. I had finally gotten a hold of a man I was contacting for weeks. While on the phone I was trying to explain who I was and why I was calling. I could hear his impatient huffs in my ear and I was suddenly overcome with nerves. Because of my stutter I couldn’t say the name of my company, which led to him laughing and hanging up.   I know what you’re thinking, “What masochist goes into sales if they have a stutter? Isn’t your job to talk?” You’re completely right. I definitely should not be in a job that requires complete fluency. But sometimes you just have to say ‘screw it’ and move on with your life.  

The truth is, no one knows why people stutter despite it being so common.

  More than 70 million people worldwide are stutterers, that’s one in every 100. In the US, more than 3 million people stutter.The only thing we know is how to try to control it. Through a lot of speech therapy, effort, and (quite frankly) self deprecating humor it can become manageable. But the question remains, what in the world does this have to do with a fluent adult such as yourself.   Any conversation can be paralyzing for someone with a stutter. I, personally, struggle saying my first name and my job title, isn’t that ironic? Though I do my best to have control, I find myself avoiding my name when there are pending introductions. Undoubtedly, this leads to the other person asking what my name is and as I take in a big breathe they become inpatient, give up, and then move on to another conversation (almost always about the weather, but I’m still stuck on how dumb I look).     Here is the part that is relevant to you. What can you do if you’re having a conversation with a coworker with a stutter? The most important thing is to be patient. If you are rushing a conversation they will physically not be able to finish their sentence. Let them breathe and start over if need be, and then they will carry on. Make sure to continue to listen to what they are saying, not how they are saying it; what they say could change your life…maybe.   What not to do after a coworker stutters:
  • “Are you cold? You’re shivering.
  This one is particularly bad in the middle of summer.
  • “Hurry up! I have to get on another call.”
They are going as fast as they can. They will speak faster if you tell them to take their time. It sounds counter intuitive, I know.
  • Do not repeat their stutter back to them. Mocking is a form of bullying.
  • Never EVER laugh. Some people find themselves laughing because of the awkward break in the conversation, but it feels like you’re laughing directly at them.
  Ultimately, you are going to work with all different kinds of people…at least that’s what our moms told us. We are all trying to achieve the same goal, but no two paths will be the same. If you read this whole thing and didn’t retain any of it, know this- the stutterer on the other side of the conversation is having to try much harder than you think. So when in doubt be patient, be kind, and seek to understand.   Thank you Morgan R. for taking the time to write this amazing blog and giving a spotlight on stuttering!