Stuttering. The speech stopper. The verbal blockade.

Stuttering affects approximately 68 million people in the world, but do we ever stop and think about how a stutter will affect someone in and around the world of work?

Stuttering is a condition that I think doesn’t get the focus that it needs. People think that a stutter just affects how you speak but it can affect you at a much deeper level too. In this blog, we are going to be taking a closer look at what exactly a stutter is and then we are going to look at stuttering in the world of work, how it affects people in interviews and how employers could potentially behave if they are interviewing someone with a stutter.

What is a stutter?

Stuttering is a condition that has a lot of different definitions. Personally I like the definition provided by the NHS, as it breaks stuttering down into three separate definitions:

  • The first definition that they use is when a person starts to “repeat sounds or syllables” of a word. This type of stutter is the most common type and from my experience, has the biggest affect on an individual. An example for this type of stuttering can be a student asking for a pencil off a teacher in school. A person who doesn’t stutter would just ask “can I borrow a pen please?” Whereas if that person has a stutter then it might come out more like “can can can I borrow a pen please?”

 

  • The second type of stutter that the NHS provide us with is when a person starts to “make sounds longer”. An example that I like to use for this one is someone saying the word please. For a person who doesn’t have a stutter the word please is easy to say, however, if the person has a stutter then it might come out more like “pppppplease” or “pleeease”. I have found that this type of stuttering is the hardest to identify and that most people wouldn’t even class it as a stutter at first glance.

 

  • The last type of stutter that the NHS talk about is when “a word gets stuck or doesn’t come out at all”. I find that this type of stuttering is the hardest type to live with and for me it is the hardest to learn to manage. If not handled very well it can lead to a severe decrease in a person’s self-confidence and can lead to them starting to isolate themselves. A handy tip if you are speaking to someone who suffers with this type of stutter, if they get stuck on a word while you’re talking maybe try rewording the question. If the person can use a different word instead of the word, they are stuck on it can help them break out of it. If you do not like these definitions of what a stutter is there are plenty more out there, these are just the ones that I like to use.

Applying for jobs and interviews with a stutter can be a very, very scary process.

As most interviews are usually time monitored people with a stutter fear that they won’t be able to say exactly what they want to say and start to panic. Stuttering is unfortunately amplified by intense emotion. When a person with a stutter starts to feel anxious, angry or worried they start to stutter more. This obviously adds to the pressure already present in an interview and can lead to them stuttering even more.

Usually before a person who suffers goes into an interview, they stop and run through all their stutter managing techniques to try and prevent them from stuttering in the interview. Doing this starts to cause the person to panic more and lose faith in their stutter managing techniques. This makes them start to lose belief in themselves and then they go into the interview with a negative and bleak mindset. The trick to monitoring and managing a stutter is patience and a positive attitude however, things aren’t always as bad as they seem.

If you have a stutter and are going for an interview, I would advise you to leave the whole day empty, at least as empty as you can, before the interview. In this day then I recommend that you try your best to relax and keep calm. Do some meditation and go for a long walk to help clear your mind for a few minutes. Even though this doesn’t sound very helpful, it can make the world of difference. If instead of panicking about the interview you are keeping calm and relaxing, then it starts to bring some of the fear out of going into the interview. If you are calm the night before the interview then usually, you can sleep better which leads to increased productivity for the next day.

After you have the day before off to relax, I suggest that you look through your notes briefly in the morning before the interview. Before you walk into the interview I say to stop, close your eyes for 20 seconds, focus on breathing and then go in. From my personal experience of living with a stutter, I find that it is the smaller things that you do that have the most impact on it. I always ask the question why are you going to spend a day panicking before an interview when all it’s going to do is make you stutter more? Keeping a clear and happy mindset is key to helping reduce the amount of times you stutter.

As for how to manage a stutter in an interview, there are a million possible ways. My personal favourite technique is one that I created myself which I like to call Rhythmical Thinking. The basics behind Rhythmical Thinking are as follows. If you are stuttering a lot or can’t get a few words out, then I suggest you stop for a second and start to think of a slow musical beat. When you have this beat going at a consistent rate in your head start speaking in time with the beat, you will find that you won’t stutter as much. As you start to stop stuttering you increase the speed of the beat slowly until you are back to normal speaking speed. If you want to learn more about Rhythmical Thinking I have written a blog about it which goes into more detail: https://sweeneysblog.com/2019/02/07/rhythmical-thinking-a-stuttering-solution/.

When you are preparing for an interview you will almost always hear the phrase “practise makes perfect”. I completely disagree with this statement; perfect practise is what makes perfect results. Stuttering like most things in life is something that does get better with practise. To help put you in the best possible starting block when it comes to preparing for an interview with a stutter, try practising with a Careers Consultant. Careers Consultants are there to help you, they are a great resource which I highly recommend people use. If you take the time to have one or two practise interviews with a Careers Consultant, then hopefully it should reduce your nerves on the day of the actual interview. As mentioned earlier stuttering is affected by intense emotions, so why wouldn’t you take the chance to calm your nerves and potentially lower the chance of you stuttering? Personally, I think it is a great idea.

Interviewing someone with a stutter

The advice that I would give the interviewer is to keep patient and be vigilant. The bottom line is that people with a stutter will need more time to speak than people who do not have a stutter. That doesn’t mean that what they have to say is less important. A person with a stutter may be the ideal person you are looking for, but if you do not give them the time to impress you and say what they want to say then you will lose them. You can see by the stutterer’s face that they are really trying to speak so I plead to you to give them the time that they need to finish what they are trying to say.

When I talk about being vigilant that refers to if someone simply cannot get the words out. If you can learn to recognise when this happens then you can reword the question that the stutterer will be able to answer. It is not that the question you ask is too difficult for the stutterer or they don’t understand it, sometimes they just cannot get the word out and need to say an alternative word instead.


Thank you for reading my blog about stuttering in the world of work. I hope that you have enjoyed reading the blog and that you have learnt something new about stutters. I own my own blog page called Sweeney’s Blogs so if you like this blog, I highly recommend checking out my other work. I write blogs on Stuttering, Stress and Mental Health and aim to do at least two blogs a week. If you want to learn more about stuttering specifically then I am running a series now called Stuttering in Mainstream Media. This series takes a deeper look at what a stutter is and then we take a look at my story and the stories of a lot of famous people who all have stutters and how they live with it. It is an exciting and interesting series to write read so hopefully you give them a try and hopefully you learn something new!

You can visit my blog page here: sweeneysblog.com

Thank you for reading and I hope to write another blog for you soon!

James Sweeney

BSc Management with Information Technology Student

Henley Business School