It can be disconcerting talking with someone who stammers, but don't be distressed by it. Just listen and be patient.
- Advice. Don't go there. Don’t tell the person to 'slow down', 'take a breath', or 'relax'. And definitely don't make the joke: 'Did you forget your name?'.
- Don’t interrupt or speak over them.
- Don’t try and guess or finish their words, it can be disempowering and unhelpful.
- Maintain natural eye contact, listen, and wait until the person has finished speaking.
- Let the speaker know you are listening. Focus on what they’re saying, not how they say it.
- Stammering varies. People who stammer can have most difficulty when starting to speak and less difficulty once underway.
- People who stammer often find controlling their speech on the phone particularly hard. If you pick up the phone and hear nothing, give the caller plenty of time to speak.
Don't be afraid to ask them how you can make it easier for them.
When someone stammers, you might assume they're unsure of what they’re saying. They aren't. They’re checking their speech and worried about how they say something. They may also talk very fast. If you miss something, ask them to repeat it.
People who stammer usually find saying their name particularly hard. Please don't EVER ask 'have you forgotten your name?'. If you are about to meet new people, ask the person who stammers privately beforehand if they would like to introduce themselves or if they’d like you to introduce them.
If you are in a group of people nattering away, make sure you can see the person who stammers. If you see that they want to speak, interrupt the flow and invite them to share their thoughts. Set an example to others.
Situations that many people who stammer find particularly demanding include:
- Meeting new people (including meeting your friends and family for the first time),
- Introducing themselves or others
- Job interviews
- Starting a new job
- Telephone calls
- Asking for tickets with a queue behind them
- Speaking through glass at a bank or the post office
- Ordering at a bar
- Talking above background noise,
- Talking when others can overhear
- Talking to an authority figure of some sort.
You may recognise that several of these situations can be difficult even if you don't stammer. Someone who stammers may be especially concerned at these times about how people will react to their stammering, and may feel huge pressure to be or appear 'fluent'. Some people have even put off marrying because they are anxious about saying their vows.
Watch this short video from the BBC, 'Things not to say to someone who stammers' (links to BBC website).
Stammering is not about nervousness or shyness. In fact, your stammering partner, friend or family member may stammer more with you because they feel relaxed and don't have to worry about their speech with you.
How you can help
- Accept that stammering is an important issue for your partner or friend: your patience and understanding will be really important to them.
- Stammering is not about people 'pulling themselves together', 'thinking before they speak', simply 'relaxing' or 'taking a breath', or indeed just 'being more confident'.
- Ask how you can help and talk about how you are feeling too.
- Negotiate handling practical matters like answering the phone or ordering in a restaurant.
- Be prepared to talk and keep talking about stammering. A friendship or partnership works best when you share stuff.
- Accept that you won't always understand what they are going through – don't feel guilty about this.
- Stay calm and relaxed, keep natural eye contact, and give them space and time to communicate.
- If you feel embarrassed or anxious because of their stammering, learning to be comfortable with it will help you both. By doing so you will show others how to respond.