How To Talk to Someone Who Stutters

Many of us who stutter have spent considerable amounts of time thinking about how we can adapt various aspects of our communication to fit in better with the world around us. It is refreshing to see that people who do not stutter are seeking advice about how they can change their behaviours to make us feel more comfortable.

At BeneTalk we had a chat and a think about this. Communication is a two-way street, so here’s a few things you can do the next you have a chat with a member of the stuttering community.

1. Demonstrate patience

Patience = respect during communication. People who stutter are often made to feel hurried when speaking, if you can help break this convention and demonstrate you are willing to be patient then it can make the world of difference. Resist the urge to hurry the conversation along if the person you are speaking to is experiencing a block or moment of dysfluency. Take the opportunity to engage in a different kind of interaction. Listen to the person the same way you would listen to someone who doesn’t stutter and pay attention to what they say rather than how they say it.

2. Think about your body language

Confused faces, glances away, and raised eyebrows are all difficult reactions to contend with. People who stutter are very attuned to non-verbal communication and certain responses to a block or a repetition can make us more anxious. The good news is that warm, inviting body language can make the world of difference. Try to maintain soft eye contact and a facial expression that transmits patience, not confusion.

3. Don’t joke

It’s quite common to feel uncomfortable when faced with stuttering if you are not used to it. We are taught that any communication that differs from the norm is somehow strange. In response, many people try and use humour as a way to respond to their feeling of discomfort. Please do not do this! When we block when introducing ourselves we often hear jokes along the lines of, “did you forget your name?”, or “took you a minute to respond there, are you sure?”. Trust us, we’ve heard them all before. It’s fine to feel uncomfortable, sometimes we do too, but please remember that patience = respect and give the interaction the time and space it needs to progress.

4. Don’t fill in the gaps

It can be very tempting to finish people’s sentences when they experience a block. It may seem like a helpful act, but it actually takes agency away from the person who is speaking. Remember that people who stutter are used to being interrupted, so try and break with convention and demonstrate patience, even if you are convinced you know the next word. In doing so, you will set yourself apart from most of the people we talk to.

5. No need for compliments or suggestions of cures

The biggest compliment you can pay us is merely to listen with patience. Complimenting moments of fluency with comments like, “you’re speaking very well now” may feel well intended, but they further reinforce the idea that stuttering is somehow “bad”. Equally, advising us to slow down, breathe, or take a certain kind of supplement are ultimately not helpful. We have all been advised on how to stop stuttering and if any of those suggestions worked then we wouldn’t be here in the first place!

Communicating with a stutter can be difficult, mainly because of the way other people respond when we stutter. We believe that there is much to be learned by embracing stuttering and those who stutter. We hope that these 5 pieces of advice help you have a stutter-friendly conversation the next time you are lucky enough to meet someone from the community.