Stuttering and the telephone


For people who stutter, picking up a telephone to make a call can be like picking up a live cobra – only the phone is worse. Stutterers often share the agony of having to speak on the phone.

Lately, I’ve been thinking about why this is so. And here’s what I’ve come up with. Someone once told me about that about 70 per cent of the meaning we get from dialogue comes from non-verbal communication. The rest comes from verbal communication.


That means most of the meaning that we get comes from what we don’t say. When we’re talking to someone face-to-face, we have things like facial gestures and hand gestures to rely on. As people who stutter, that’s music to our ears.

However, this isn’t the case when you’re on the phone. In actuality, the 70 per cent becomes 100 per cent. When you’re on the phone with someone, you only have the person’s voice to rely on. And for people who stutter, I think this is the part we find agonizing.

Ironically, as a person who stutters, I chose to enter the worlds of journalism and public relations as career paths, fields where I constantly have to make calls, talk to people and interview them on the phone.

One might ask why I would intentionally subject myself to this kind of agony being a person who stutters?

Well, for starters, I love to write. And despite having a stutter, I do love meeting other people as well, and sharing thoughts and experiences with them. Having a stutter doesn’t necessarily mean we aren’t good communicators.

Despite the occasional struggle, picking up the phone and calling up a complete stranger is something I’m getting increasingly more used to and, as someone who stutters, I’ve picked up a few tips along the way.

  • If you’re not used to cold-calling, try phoning up a random store and inquire about a specific item. This may sound silly, but I’ve done it a few times and I’ve found it helps put me in the proper mindset. Consider it practice for the real thing. And if you’re using techniques to help manage your stuttering, this is a good opportunity to practice them.
  • Try writing up a script beforehand of what you want to say. When I’m working on an article and I have to interview someone on the phone, I’ll always jot down some questions first. It helps take the edge off when you plan what you want to say before.
  • And despite how nerve-wracking it can be, just force yourself to do it. We all often wonder how the recipient may react to hearing us stutter. Are they going to laugh? Are they going to hang up on us? But sometimes, you just have to force yourself to get the job done.

And one thing I’ve learned as both a person who stutters and a journalist is that the more phone calls you make, the more relaxed you’ll be the next time.

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