Talking With Someone Who Stutters

Reviewed Apr 28, 2016

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Summary

  • Don't make assumptions.
  • Don't finish others' sentences.
  • Be open and honest.

Millions of Americans stutter. Chances are, if you don’t already know someone who stutters, you will soon. And while talking with someone who stutters isn’t a big deal, it can sometimes feel awkward and you might not know what to do.

A good way to ease conversations with someone who stutters is to forget any assumptions you may have. Don't assume that people who stutter are nervous or shy. Don’t assume they’re less capable or disabled. Stuttering is a speech problem that has no bearing on a person’s mental or communication abilities. If you doubt this, keep in mind that some famous people stutter—some of whom we recognize because of their wonderful vocal abilities. They include Winston Churchill, James Earl Jones, Bruce Willis, and Carly Simon.

General tips

In conversations, rely on your instincts for good communication and common courtesy. These tips also may help:

  • Set a good pace. When talking with someone who stutters, you may think that if he could just slow down, he’d be OK. It’s true that a rushed conversation can make stuttering worse. But don’t say things such as “slow down," "take a breath," or "relax.” Instead, help set a relaxed, unhurried pace by speaking that way yourself.
  • Don’t finish sentences or fill in words. It’s rarely pleasant when someone finishes your sentence for you. It’s no different for a person who stutters. Let her finish in her own terms and in her own time.
  • Be a good listener. This is important any time, but especially with a person who stutters. Your manner and actions should tell the person you’re listening to what he’s saying and not how he’s saying it. Use eye contact and wait for the person to finish.
  • Don’t be shy. You shouldn’t interrupt the person, but if you don’t understand what she said, don’t be afraid to say so. It may feel uncomfortable, but she’ll appreciate your efforts at clear communication and you’ll both benefit from it.
  • Be open and honest. Stuttering is not a taboo subject. If it comes up or if you have questions about it, be courteous, but don’t feel shy. Some people who stutter may feel sensitive at first, but most will appreciate your interest and the chance to talk openly about it.

Telephones often present particular problems for people who stutter. The same rules apply, but be patient.

When a child stutters

The above tips apply to everyone. But if you’re talking with a child who stutters, keep these ideas in mind:

  • Encourage talking by making the child feel comfortable. She shouldn’t feel the need to keep quiet because she stutters. If you wait silently during playtime, the child often will start up the conversation on her own.
  • Make it fun. Children blocked by stuttering often speak perfectly well when they read stories aloud, sing, or recite nursery rhymes. These activities make speaking fun, and give the child confidence. 
  • Talk openly about it. This is especially important for kids. If you don’t talk openly, you’ll be sending a message to the child that it’s something to feel ashamed of. Don’t make it a big deal, but let the child know he can discuss it freely.

Resources

The National Stuttering Association
www.nsastutter.org

The Stuttering Foundation of America
www.stutteringhelp.org

Stuttering: A Life Bound Up in Words by Marty Jezer. Small Pond Press, 2008.

By James Rea

Summary

  • Don't make assumptions.
  • Don't finish others' sentences.
  • Be open and honest.

Millions of Americans stutter. Chances are, if you don’t already know someone who stutters, you will soon. And while talking with someone who stutters isn’t a big deal, it can sometimes feel awkward and you might not know what to do.

A good way to ease conversations with someone who stutters is to forget any assumptions you may have. Don't assume that people who stutter are nervous or shy. Don’t assume they’re less capable or disabled. Stuttering is a speech problem that has no bearing on a person’s mental or communication abilities. If you doubt this, keep in mind that some famous people stutter—some of whom we recognize because of their wonderful vocal abilities. They include Winston Churchill, James Earl Jones, Bruce Willis, and Carly Simon.

General tips

In conversations, rely on your instincts for good communication and common courtesy. These tips also may help:

  • Set a good pace. When talking with someone who stutters, you may think that if he could just slow down, he’d be OK. It’s true that a rushed conversation can make stuttering worse. But don’t say things such as “slow down," "take a breath," or "relax.” Instead, help set a relaxed, unhurried pace by speaking that way yourself.
  • Don’t finish sentences or fill in words. It’s rarely pleasant when someone finishes your sentence for you. It’s no different for a person who stutters. Let her finish in her own terms and in her own time.
  • Be a good listener. This is important any time, but especially with a person who stutters. Your manner and actions should tell the person you’re listening to what he’s saying and not how he’s saying it. Use eye contact and wait for the person to finish.
  • Don’t be shy. You shouldn’t interrupt the person, but if you don’t understand what she said, don’t be afraid to say so. It may feel uncomfortable, but she’ll appreciate your efforts at clear communication and you’ll both benefit from it.
  • Be open and honest. Stuttering is not a taboo subject. If it comes up or if you have questions about it, be courteous, but don’t feel shy. Some people who stutter may feel sensitive at first, but most will appreciate your interest and the chance to talk openly about it.

Telephones often present particular problems for people who stutter. The same rules apply, but be patient.

When a child stutters

The above tips apply to everyone. But if you’re talking with a child who stutters, keep these ideas in mind:

  • Encourage talking by making the child feel comfortable. She shouldn’t feel the need to keep quiet because she stutters. If you wait silently during playtime, the child often will start up the conversation on her own.
  • Make it fun. Children blocked by stuttering often speak perfectly well when they read stories aloud, sing, or recite nursery rhymes. These activities make speaking fun, and give the child confidence. 
  • Talk openly about it. This is especially important for kids. If you don’t talk openly, you’ll be sending a message to the child that it’s something to feel ashamed of. Don’t make it a big deal, but let the child know he can discuss it freely.

Resources

The National Stuttering Association
www.nsastutter.org

The Stuttering Foundation of America
www.stutteringhelp.org

Stuttering: A Life Bound Up in Words by Marty Jezer. Small Pond Press, 2008.

By James Rea

Summary

  • Don't make assumptions.
  • Don't finish others' sentences.
  • Be open and honest.

Millions of Americans stutter. Chances are, if you don’t already know someone who stutters, you will soon. And while talking with someone who stutters isn’t a big deal, it can sometimes feel awkward and you might not know what to do.

A good way to ease conversations with someone who stutters is to forget any assumptions you may have. Don't assume that people who stutter are nervous or shy. Don’t assume they’re less capable or disabled. Stuttering is a speech problem that has no bearing on a person’s mental or communication abilities. If you doubt this, keep in mind that some famous people stutter—some of whom we recognize because of their wonderful vocal abilities. They include Winston Churchill, James Earl Jones, Bruce Willis, and Carly Simon.

General tips

In conversations, rely on your instincts for good communication and common courtesy. These tips also may help:

  • Set a good pace. When talking with someone who stutters, you may think that if he could just slow down, he’d be OK. It’s true that a rushed conversation can make stuttering worse. But don’t say things such as “slow down," "take a breath," or "relax.” Instead, help set a relaxed, unhurried pace by speaking that way yourself.
  • Don’t finish sentences or fill in words. It’s rarely pleasant when someone finishes your sentence for you. It’s no different for a person who stutters. Let her finish in her own terms and in her own time.
  • Be a good listener. This is important any time, but especially with a person who stutters. Your manner and actions should tell the person you’re listening to what he’s saying and not how he’s saying it. Use eye contact and wait for the person to finish.
  • Don’t be shy. You shouldn’t interrupt the person, but if you don’t understand what she said, don’t be afraid to say so. It may feel uncomfortable, but she’ll appreciate your efforts at clear communication and you’ll both benefit from it.
  • Be open and honest. Stuttering is not a taboo subject. If it comes up or if you have questions about it, be courteous, but don’t feel shy. Some people who stutter may feel sensitive at first, but most will appreciate your interest and the chance to talk openly about it.

Telephones often present particular problems for people who stutter. The same rules apply, but be patient.

When a child stutters

The above tips apply to everyone. But if you’re talking with a child who stutters, keep these ideas in mind:

  • Encourage talking by making the child feel comfortable. She shouldn’t feel the need to keep quiet because she stutters. If you wait silently during playtime, the child often will start up the conversation on her own.
  • Make it fun. Children blocked by stuttering often speak perfectly well when they read stories aloud, sing, or recite nursery rhymes. These activities make speaking fun, and give the child confidence. 
  • Talk openly about it. This is especially important for kids. If you don’t talk openly, you’ll be sending a message to the child that it’s something to feel ashamed of. Don’t make it a big deal, but let the child know he can discuss it freely.

Resources

The National Stuttering Association
www.nsastutter.org

The Stuttering Foundation of America
www.stutteringhelp.org

Stuttering: A Life Bound Up in Words by Marty Jezer. Small Pond Press, 2008.

By James Rea

The information provided on the Achieve Solutions site, including, but not limited to, articles, quizzes and other general information, is for informational purposes only and should not be treated as behavioral health care or management advice. Please direct questions regarding the operation of the Achieve Solutions site to Web Feedback. If you have questions related to workplace issues, please consider contacting your human resources department. ©2017 Beacon Health Options, Inc.

 

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