Blog: Callers who stammer— tips for call handlers

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For Helplines Awareness Day this Friday, the STAMMA Training Service explain how helpline operators can make things easier for callers who stammer.

This Friday, may we offer our congratulations and thanks to all helpliners and webchatters. Not only at STAMMA but also at so many organisations around the world, because Friday 23rd February 2024 is the second annual Helplines Awareness Day, a day when we celebrate the unseen but vital work helplines provide to help people through difficult times. For more information about Helplines Awareness Day, check out the Helplines Partnership website

At STAMMA, our helpline (call free on 0808 802 0002) and webchat are here to help with any questions people might have about stammering. They're both open Mondays to Thursdays 10am-2pm and 4pm-8pm, and we answer hundreds of queries every year, ranging from parents worried that their child has just started to stammer, to teachers who want to start a school project about diversity and disfluency, and adults looking for help at work or in social situations. People call us to practise saying their name, or just because it's been a tough day, and they'd like to chat in a safe and understanding environment.

Learn more about our helpline, webchat, and our large range of services and support.

But what about all the other helplines out there? What if someone who stammers wants to talk about a personal issue other than stammering? Money worries perhaps, filling out your tax form, concerns about health, relationships, or a gazillion other things?

There is now a double challenge: the reason for the call and the fact that many people who stammer dread making phone calls. Especially at the start of a call or when having to say specific words like their name or email address.

There are some things we hope that experienced helplines won't do. We know that you won't rush them, interrupt them, or laugh at them. 

How can helplines deal with this double challenge? Working on a helpline can be difficult enough — how much harder when, to your surprise and consternation, you realise that your caller has a stammer?

Well, it may not surprise you to know that we have a guide called 'Stammering and Customer Contact', which you can download below. It includes advice for helplines, call-handlers, and anyone talking on the phone to someone who stammers.

To start with, there are some things we hope that experienced helplines won't do. We know that you won't rush them, interrupt them, or laugh at them.

The guide has a section on silent calls — those situations that might be unexpected and unnerving to the call-handler when the caller is stammering and cannot say anything. There is a useful script for this situation on page eight of the guide, but the short answer is: let the caller know that you're happy to give them time and don't hang up on them.

And perhaps most importantly, the guide explains that stammering is simply another way of talking: give your caller the time and respect that allows them to explain and explore their problems.

So, no different from how you would talk with any other caller really! This is how you enable a relaxed, fruitful, conversation — a conversation that your call might be finding difficult for multiple reasons.

Thank you, all you helplines out there, and happy Helplines Awareness Day!

if you'd like some help to make your organisation stammer-friendly, contact the STAMMA Training Service.

The Helplines Awareness Day is organised by the Helplines Partnership, the membership body for around a 350 organisations worldwide that provide information, support or advice via phone, email, text or online.

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A speaker on stage at STAMMAFest 2023

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