People who stammer will have developed personal (tried and tested) techniques and strategies to support themselves in everyday life. Here are some practical suggestions to consider and try out. Do remember, however, that like most things in life, learning new skills takes time and plenty of practice.
Some people who stammer find that being more open about their stammering in the workplace is a way of taking pressure off themselves to conform to fluency norms in this environment.
Some high-pressured speaking situations (e.g. presentations, meetings) can create feelings of anxiety, stress and tension for people who stammer. Stammering can bring with it stress and anxiety or even low mood. This can include negative thinking (see below) and rumination after stammering experiences. When we feel anxious or stressed our attention can become inwardly focussed on ourselves (and our judgemental thoughts!) which can be unhelpful. Worry and stress about speaking can also mean that we lack awareness of what is going on in the present moment. Some research studies have shown that mindfulness-based therapies can improve psychological wellbeing in people who stammer. Mindfulness and mindful breathing can help people to develop awareness of, and space from, negative thinking and can also help to slow down and enhance perspective in moments of stammering. This can help us to choose effective responses and behaviours that benefit and help us, such as advocating for ourselves, or just giving ourselves a break. It can also interrupt this self-focused attention. If you want to hear this in action and give it a go then check out this example here.
Sometimes we can be our own harshest critic and our negative self-talk can have a big influence on how we feel about ourselves (such as our self-identity at work) and how we see ourselves in different situations in life. Our negative self-talk can also be influenced by attitudes and ideas around what are the ‘correct’ and acceptable ways of speaking. Try not to let your stammer influence how you perceive yourself at work - it’s very likely your stammer is more of a concern to you than it is to others. In fact, some people may be unaware that you have stammer at all. It is a good idea to try and be aware of negative self-talk and how these thoughts can create negative feelings and emotions, such as guilt and shame. Quite often our thoughts and emotions are so automatic that we feel we do not have much control over them. So try and slow down your thinking and spend some time noticing what your mind is saying in these moments (what’s that inner voice saying to you?) and learn to challenge negative thinking when it occurs. Some people find it helpful to give their inner critic a name as this helps to separate it from themselves. Talking back to the inner critic can also really help people to take back control of their thinking and feelings. Therapies (such as Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (CBT) or Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) that work to reduce the influence of thinking patterns and facilitate effective ways of responding have been shown to improve mood and reduce the impact of stammering on wellbeing.
We often speak to and treat ourselves in ways we would never treat a friend or loved one. It is likely that we learned this in our childhood and it can become our default response, such that we do not even notice it. It is worth considering that some of the ways that others responded to your stammering (such as teachers or parents) may have reinforced the idea that stammering is not ok and needs to be stopped/controlled etc. Think about how you would view someone else who spoke differently at times, would you judge them as a person, what would you say to them if they experienced a difficult speaking situation? Taking perspective in this way allows us to access a more compassionate voice. Self-compassion is not only about being kind to ourselves it is also about doing things that are in our own best interests even though they might feel difficult, such as telling someone about your stammer or politely asking someone to give you more time. Think about what you can do in moments of stammering to look after yourself. Research has shown that with practice we can learn to be kinder and more compassionate with ourselves.
Regular exercise helps to destress us and is a great way to keep physically AND mentally healthy.
One of the simplest things we can do is to improve our knowledge and understanding of stammering. Stammering is unique and often improving our own understanding of stammering helps us to gain a greater understanding of ourselves as individuals and how stammering impacts us on a personal level. Check out https://stamma.org/ for more information and resources.
Whether it is a friend, one of our mentors (fellow NHS colleagues who stammer) or a colleague or manager. People you trust can be a great source of support in the workplace and someone with whom you can discuss stammering-related workplace issues you may be experiencing. You can find more information on how to access support from one of our mentors in this website. Confidential support is also available via your Trust’s Employee Assistance Programme (EAP) - contact your local Occupational Health team or Trust intranet for their contact details.
Sometimes it can feel daunting having to interact with colleagues, patients and other people at work if you are concerned that you may stammer. In fact, making a point of interacting with others on a regular basis can provide a really valuable opportunity to use your voice (to keep ‘voice active’), a great way to develop your communication skills and experiment with different ways of supporting yourself, such as developing kinder and more compassionate self-talk.
Whilst speaking situations can be challenging in multiple ways, it is important to recognise that avoiding situations can result in missing out on important life opportunities which can in turn bring more distress. Choosing to step out of your comfort zone (at your pace) can be rewarding and allow a sense of agency or control. Start small and work your way up in terms of level of difficulty. That said there are times when saying no is appropriate and necessary. You will need to gauge whether this is acceptable or indeed appropriate given your job role and you will generally need to discuss your concerns with your manager so they can help you to explore alternative tasks or other ways of helping you to deal with these situations. If you are experiencing particular challenges at work due to your stammer then your local OH team will be best placed to help you and your manager explore suitable workplace adjustments.
If you want to be more open about your stammer with others, it might be helpful to first practise and rehearse talking and sharing information about your stammer with someone you trust. This can be a great opportunity to explore different ways of bringing it up in conversation, exploring what level of detail about your stammering you feel most comfortable giving or how to respond to potentially unhelpful reactions from others. Our trained mentors are able to provide helpful support and practical advice if you want to discuss your stammer with others at work. They can help you to explore some of the pros and cons for being open with other about stammering.
There are many different situations at work when someone may wish to be open about their stammer to others, for example,
Ultimately, the decision to openly sharing information about your stammering is a personal one and people will need to consider whether it would be helpful to them. Importantly, people should not be forced to talk about their stammer if they do not wish to nor should others disclose a person’s stammer to others without their permission.
You may wish to send your colleague(s) a link to the helpful information sheets found in the Resources tab.