When we have something to say; a question to ask, an opinion to share, an explanation to deliver, it is so much easier when our flow isn’t disrupted. Being listened to validates our contribution and helps us to remember all the points that we wanted to cover. This is no different for someone who suffers from speech impairment, yet people with a stammer are often interrupted and second-guessed. How can we help stammering customers or colleagues to have a voice?
Addressing the Nation
A new King on the throne and the anticipation of his first address to the nation, made me think of The King’s Speech. This is one of my favourite films; full of kindness, humility and determination. Based on the true story of King George VI, who unexpectedly became the monarch when his brother abdicated.
Although familiar with Royal duties, the role was particularly challenging for George, as he had suffered from a stammer since childhood. This made the prospect of delivering speeches to the nation, and Commonwealth nations, a daunting task.
Determined to speak with confidence, King George VI embarked on speech therapy sessions, at times taking daily instruction. This didn’t cure the stammer, however, it helped him develop strategies that helped him manage it. In September 1939, he had to announce that England was going to war and he thoroughly prepared and confidently delivered this important address to the nation.
How Many Adults Have a Stammer in the UK?
We all occasionally hesitate, falter or have difficulty pronouncing certain words. For someone with a stammer, getting the words out is a constant challenge. They often repeat words or sounds or get stuck with no sound coming out. Being unable to freely interact can feel frustrating and embarrassing.
According to YouGov data, around 2% of the UK adult population identify as being affected by a stammer. That equates to around 1.5million individuals who find the verbal element of communication a challenge. Unfortunately, most of them can’t afford daily speech therapy sessions or time to prepare for every conversation.
Situations that Make Communication Especially Challenging
Think about the situations that make communication more challenging for any of us. These can include:
Talking to authoritative figures
Striking up a conversation with strangers
Being asked questions on the spot
Speaking up in a noisy environment
Feeling under pressure because there’s a big queue behind you
Presenting to a group
Challenging an opinion or statement
The impact of these situations is amplified for someone with a stammer. Trying to speed things along by second-guessing what they want to say and finishing a sentence is not helpful, it’s undermining. What we need is patience; to stop and listen.
How to Communication with Customers who Stammer
If you are aware of customers with a stammer, enabling them to communicate is important. Consider the following options:
Providing responsive communication via email or a chatbot.
Assigning a weekly quiet hour where background noise is minimised and staff can spend longer with each customer.
Allowing customers to prepare before a meeting, by outlining what will be covered and what they should bring in advance.
Having a member of staff dedicated to supporting customers who need additional time and support. Communicating with the same individual each time builds familiarity and reduces anxiety.
Asking the customer what would make communication easier for them.
Most importantly, customer service staff need to understand that it isn’t helpful to interrupt. Their patience and quiet reassurance are the best way to give a customer their voice.
How to Communicate with a Colleague who Stammers
If you work with someone who stammers, it is important not to exclude them from conversations. In team meetings, consider how best to gather their thoughts and suggestions if they feel unable to speak up in that environment. If they need to instruct others, preparing a PowerPoint presentation or How To video might be a good way for them to share their expertise.
Stammer UK has created a Working with Someone Who Stammers resource* to share more valuable tips.
Raising Awareness of Stammering
22 October is International Stammering Awareness Day. I encourage you to take this opportunity to visit Stamma, the website for the British Stammering Association. This is jam-packed full of resources, information and lived experiences that build understanding.
You can also learn about their No Diversity without Disfluency campaign, which calls for more representation in the media. They want it to become as normal to hear a stammer in television programmes, radio broadcasts and film productions as accents.
Royalty or not, we all deserve to be heard, so be patient and please, don’t interrupt.