Stutter filter: what can I do to best set a stutterer at ease?
March 28, 2014 6:03 AM   Subscribe

I have a phone screen later this morning. The recruiter just emailed me "I thought to make you aware he has a slight stutter however he is still perfectly understandable." My understanding is that stuttering has in part something to do with confidence and comfort. How can help the candidate here?

More details: I'm in California. The candidate is in the northeast of England. We'll be using Skype for the call. Frequently these are voice-only calls, but the candidate may be able to use video, which I always prefer.

How can make this go as smoothly for the candidate as possible?

posted by colin_l to Society & Culture (13 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Be mindful not to interrupt and otherwise, let him manage his own impairment.
posted by DarlingBri at 6:08 AM on March 28, 2014 [15 favorites]

Never interrupt or offer suggestions or otherwise complete his sentences.
posted by rhythm_queen at 6:09 AM on March 28, 2014 [9 favorites]

Hopefully someone more knowledgeable will jump in, but I'd say one of the most important things would be to avoid the temptation to "help" by finishing his sentences or guessing at the word he's trying to say - just be patient and let the conversation go a little more slowly if it needs to, and otherwise talk to him the way you would anyone else, and I'm sure you will be fine.
posted by pretentious illiterate at 6:09 AM on March 28, 2014 [1 favorite]

I would add that you don't want to go radio silent while he speaks either. If he didn't have a stutter it would be natural to throw in some 'mmhmm's, 'yes's, 'absolutely's, 'I understand's, 'ah's, etc. So don't be a frozen statue while he is talking. Im not saying interupt him, but don't leave out the little semi-verbal cues that demonstrate agreement, understanding, etc.
posted by ian1977 at 6:12 AM on March 28, 2014 [3 favorites]

The best advice I've heard about talking with someone who stutters is to show them that you are listening to WHAT they are saying, not HOW they are saying it. It's not concrete advice, but if you are mindful of that, it is helpful.
posted by shortyJBot at 6:15 AM on March 28, 2014 [7 favorites]

My wife is a speech language pathologist and has worked with clients over Skype as well. She says, first of all, pay no attention to the stuttering. Don' t finish their sentences and allow them the time they need to answer, without cutting them off. Don't feel you need to fill in the quiet space.

In addition, it would be helpful for you to insert natural pauses into your own speech and try not to sound rushed yourself. Take your time when explaining or asking questions. She says you probably will feel more uncomfortable about it then they do.
posted by Roger Dodger at 6:16 AM on March 28, 2014 [2 favorites]

Man you guys are good! The only reason I'm not marking anything best answer yet is to avoid that check mark and keep the great advice coming! Thanks so much!
posted by colin_l at 6:18 AM on March 28, 2014

Everyone else is correct. Never, ever, ever interrupt him, prompt him or finish his sentences. Be patient and let him express himself in his own time. I also advise that you try to slow down your own speech--not as if you were talking to someone stupid, but just relax. That will demonstrate, by subtle (likely even unconscious) example, that there's no need to hurry. You're not in an Aaron Sorkin script. The more relaxed he feels, the smoother his speech will be.

Source: I've got a mild stammer, which manifests when I'm anxious or otherwise worked up. I was once yelled at over the phone--by a priest, no less--"Why are you hesitating?" I had to say, "Because I have a speech impediment."
posted by Faint of Butt at 6:41 AM on March 28, 2014 [4 favorites]

I'm not an SLP, but my understanding of stuttering is that it's not, at origin, a confidence thing. It's a disconnect in the brain between thinking the thoughts and getting your mouth to form the associated words. It can definitely be worsened by lack of confidence or anxiety, especially in an interview situation. But just because he has a stutter, doesn't mean that he will be anxious or not confident in other situations.
posted by Liesl at 7:25 AM on March 28, 2014 [3 favorites]

Here's what I wrote in answer to a similar question a few years ago:
Things to avoid:

1. 'Stop, stop! Now, take a deep breath, start again, and this time speak slowly.' (I don't get this reaction much any more, but I got it all the time when I was a child, when my stammer was a good deal worse than it is now.)
2. Interrupting me in the middle of a sentence. (Not usually intended to be rude -- it's often a sign that the other person is nervous and flustered, so I try to put them at their ease.)
3. Finishing my sentences for me (and usually getting them wrong). Damn you, sentence finishers!
4. 'I do understand .. it must be so frustrating for you -- all those thoughts bubbling up inside you faster than you can get the words out.' (It's a flattering assumption, that I have a stammer because I think so quickly -- but that's not actually how a stammer works.)
5. Acute discomfort -- obviously thinking 'how awful .. but I'd better say nothing and pretend he's normal'.
I stand by what I wrote back then -- that 'the stammer is not something 'inside' me, but something that occurs in the process of social interaction with others. It's important for people to understand that a stammer is not a given fact about a person -- it's how they behave towards that person that 'makes' the stammer.'

When people are at ease talking to me, I have no trouble talking easily to them. But when they're obviously making an effort to put me at ease, that's when the stammer kicks in.
posted by verstegan at 7:51 AM on March 28, 2014 [2 favorites]

Previous poster says it all, but I can't resist adding: it's not your issue to deal with. If you find yourself paying attention to the stutter, tell yourself it's "static on the line." It's an important conversation, worth having, so the line has static, not that big a deal.
posted by Jesse the K at 10:29 AM on March 28, 2014 [1 favorite]

Thanks for the excellent suggestions and information, all. The call went well.
posted by colin_l at 11:09 AM on March 28, 2014

One small, silly thing, is to smile at an appropriate time when you're talking early on. Yes, it changes your voice a little, and makes you sound warmer. That's a small thing you can do to put any phone conversation on the right foot.
posted by ldthomps at 12:42 PM on March 28, 2014 [1 favorite]

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