This post, Four Helpful Tips for Communicating with People who Stutter is an article for parents and educators who would like tips for communicating with people who stutter. This is part 3 of a 3 part series, you can read part one, or part two if you’d like more information on this topic.
Communication Partners and Stuttering
Usually in speech therapy, we work directly with clients to increase communication. However, today I’m talking about another important part of the puzzle: communication partners.
A communication partner is anyone who is speaking with someone else. In this case, the communication partner is you. Specifically, these tips focus on how to be a good communication partner when talking to people who stutter.
Why increase our skills as communication partners?
By doing so, we can be positive, thoughtful, and engaging communicators. If this is something you value, read on for three helpful tips for communicating with people who stutter.
Four Helpful Tips for Communicating with People who Stutter
1: Give Pause Time
This means giving pauses between your own thoughts and ideas. In addition, give your communication partner time to explore their thoughts and ideas. Of course, this is easier said than done.
Anyone who has been in a group communication situation knows this is difficult to put into action. Have you been in a group communication situation where people talk over one another? Where you’ve had something to say, but haven’t been able to say it? Noisiness is no stranger to our culture, and group discussions are no exception.
In these cases, I appreciate the old adage (attributed to Ghandi):
“Be the last person to speak in the room”
Although this isn’t easy, it’s still a value to strive for.
Notes from my clients who stutter on this topic:
“When people talk too fast and I can’t get a word in, I feel like they are going way to fast. When this happens, I feel like there is no space for me to talk. This makes me feel like I don’t want to be a part of the conversation, and it makes me feel like I just want to walk away.”
2: Use Positive Nonverbal Behaviors
Face the person who is talking to you. Make eye contact. Provide nonverbal feedback. This is another piece of advice that is easier said than done. How much time in our culture do we spend listening to each other?
We tend to rush through conversations. We stare at our watch or at the door, or send other negative nonverbal behaviors. When we do these things, we communicate that we don’t really want to be talking with our communication partner.
Certainly, there are times we need to use these behaviors to help us get out of conversations. However, I’ve noticed many of us (myself included) can unintentionally send these messages when we don’t mean to. We live in a rushed culture. We all need to practice being better listeners. Speaking of nonverbal behaviors, checking our phones is one of those. It is a sign of respect to put your phone away when talking to someone else – especially for a person with a communication challenge. In this case, communicating is hard enough. Let’s not make it more difficult for the person who stutters.
3: Maintain Eye Contact
This goes with tip two, but is a little more specific. Focus on making eye contact, particularly during a stuttering event. It’s almost automatic for most people to look away from the person who stutters when they have a stuttering event. Unfortunately, that sends a negative nonverbal message that that person is doing something wrong. Of course, we don’t want to stare our communication partner down. Eye contact is a powerful tool, so let’s use it to send messages of acceptance to those we care about.
Notes from my clients who stutter on this topic (numbers two and three combined):
“When people do this, it seems like people aren’t listening and it seems like they have no idea what I’m saying and don’t care. I feel frustrated in these situations. “
4: Don’t Tell the Person How to Talk
We each have our own life experience. If you’re talking with a person who stutters, chances are they know more about their own communication than you ever will. Even so, it’s common for communication partners to give people who stutter feedback about how they should be talking. The most common example of this is to tell someone to slow down during a stuttering event. The best way to remind yourself not to do this is to think about the number of hours the person who stutters spends talking. Then, think about the number of hours you have spent either personally stuttering or learning about stuttering. The person who stutters and their experience will win every time. Unless someone asks you for advice, it’s best not to give it. This goes for a lot of social situations. It is especially important when we are talking with someone who has difficulty communicating.
Notes from my clients who stutter on this topic:
“This makes me feel like people are bossing me around. Really, I don’t want anyone to boss me around but my mom. When people do this, it just isn’t helpful. I want to talk on my own. I don’t really need help from other people. I want to speak independently and I want people to listen to my ideas.”
Taking Responsibility for our own Communication
Remember, by being a positive and engaging communication partner, you will be a better listener. Find space within your conversations. Self monitor your own eye contact and nonverbal behaviors. Don’t give advice to your communication partner unless asked. I would argue this is just plain, good communication advice.
This advice doesn’t just pertain to speaking with people who stutter. In fact, these tips would be helpful for talking to anyone with a communication challenge.
I hope you found these communication tips helpful. If you live in the Rogue Valley and are looking for a speech language pathologist, my pediatric clinic serves children with a variety of needs. You can learn more about me (and the insurance plans I accept) by checking out my FAQs , or visit my contact page to reach out.