31st July 2019
In Nabiha Khan’s high-powered role in telecommunications, talking is a major part of the job. But she doesn't let her stammer stop her. In fact, she argues, it's an asset.
I am 29 and as far back as I can trace my memories, I recall being a person who stammers. My stammer isn’t a result of any psychological incident or any medical treatment, I was born with it. I was born different, different to my entire family; the odd one out among my siblings and everybody else I had ever met.
I grew up being an introvert and socially awkward, though I would only associate a fraction of that to my stammering. I dreaded speaking to strangers and reading aloud in class was my biggest fear. I would often not stand up on my turn and let the next student take it up. Becoming a public speaker fascinated me but my stammer always kept me glued to my seat.
Growing up with a stammer, I built a comfort zone around myself. I had my own strategies of speaking, where I would modify the sentence and the words to my own comfort and ease. My family never saw it as anything different and I never went for any therapy. Either they thought it was completely normal (which even I think today), or they thought I would outgrow it.
workplace attitudes and obstacles
However, my stammer never held me back from talking to people and perhaps that was the reason I chose a job that involved a lot of speaking, particularly over the phone, attending meetings or presenting: all the situations a person who stammers isn’t a fan of.
I am now a Telecommunications Engineer working for an organisation in Oman. As my role is in coordination and project management, verbal communication is a major part of the job.
The mentality that considers a girl that stammers as vulnerable or pitiable, added to the trouble.
Making at least fifteen phone calls a day and attending bi-weekly meetings and presentation updates, the job is a much bigger challenge when you stammer. While I struggled to accommodate myself in a male-dominated industry, the mentality that considers a girl that stammers as vulnerable or pitiable, added to the trouble.
Taking up a role in an organisation in the Middle East wasn’t easy either. The awareness of stammering in this region of the world is next to none and anyone who stammers is looked upon as someone who is struggling to process their thoughts or who isn’t sure about what they want to say.
As someone who grew up stammering, I was quite used to seeing confused faces whenever I spoke. Some people tried completing my sentences, some guessed what I wanted to say and some were polite enough to wait for me to finish. The same continued in my workplace as well in the initial days. However, with time I have embraced my stammer gracefully. Sometimes I take my time when talking on the phone, and in other instances I explain at my own pace during presentations. Sometimes I just change my words and opt for the easier ones.
Moreover, with the passage of time, my colleagues have developed a sense of understanding towards me. They listen patiently and give me time to speak, rather than equating the delay to the lack of clarity of my thoughts.
Being a kid, I always hoped to outgrow my stammer but today I do not. It is a part of my personality, something without which I wouldn’t be what I am and what I have always been. My stammer isn’t ‘cute’. It isn’t something to offer sympathy for, nor am I less intelligent because I take longer to express myself. But I am strong; strong enough to stand with every man in a male-dominated industry, intelligent enough to rationalise what everybody else can and competent enough to deliver what I am supposed to.
My stammer isn’t ‘cute’. It isn’t something to offer sympathy for, nor am I less intelligent because I take longer to express myself. But I am strong.
In fact, I consider my stammer to be an asset to my job role. Communication isn’t complete without active listening and a person who stammers demands that a person listen patiently before they come up with an answer. My stammering gives me an edge over others in making people listen to me. My difference enables me to do what isn’t easy for others.
If only more stammerers opted for this job role, we would run projects more patiently, more considerately and be more willing to listen to others, therefore facilitating better communication.
For help and support for coping in the workplace, including advice for dealing with presentations, telephone and meetings, see our Stammering at Work section.
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