About the presenter: Jim McClure is a person who stutters, a member of the National Stuttering Association's board of directors and the consumer representative on the Specialty Board on Fluency Disorders. He was a NSA chapter leader in Chicago for many years before retiring to Albuquerque, New Mexico. Jim is a fellow of the Public Relations Society of America and is a retired U.S. Navy public affairs officer.

You can post Questions/comments about the following paper to the author before October 22, 2012.

Making Peace With the Phone Or, Curse You, Alexander Graham Bell

by Jim McClure
from New Mexico, USA

It's a cruel trick, isn't it? In a society in which children grow up literally attached to the telephone, people who stutter live in daily fear that the damned thing will ring.

I grew up with the typical telephone trauma of the stutterer: fear and trepidation, ludicrous avoidances and substitutions, the adolescent nightmare of calling a girl for a date.

Eventually I overcame my phone phobia. What started me on the road to recovery, ironically, was deep denial. Instead of organizing my life to avoid the telephone, I stubbornly refused to acknowledge my stuttering and got myself into situations where I HAD to use the phone.

I studied journalism to write instead of talk, but had to make and answer numerous phone calls as a newspaper reporter. In the Navy, I had to answer the phone with my name and rank briskly and authoritatively. Talking on a voice radio circuit at sea was even scarier. Then I went into public relations: at the telephone company, of all places! Now I had to answer the phone within three rings in a tone of unflagging courtesy. When I became a manager I felt compelled to use a speakerphone instead of clutching the handset in a death grip.

In all these situations I used the phone because I had to, cursing myself for getting into this mess. Painful as it was, constant exposure gradually desensitized me. Over the years, using the phone became more familiar and comfortable. Today I answer the phone without hesitation, carry a cell phone everywhere and prefer talking to text messages.

Ultimately I conquered my telephone fears by picking up the phone and talking: day after day, year after year. I probably would have come to terms with the phone more quickly had I been open about my stuttering instead of avoiding it.

Here are some tactics that helped:

Make practice calls. Call a store to ask how late they're open, or ask the theater what movies are playing.

Start with easy situations such as talking on the phone with friends. I used to start my day with an "ice-breaker" call to a friend or business colleague before calling strangers.

Be prepared for voice mail. When I called prospective clients I used a voice mail script to make sure I got my key points across in a 30-second message. That helped my stuttering, too.

Let people know you stutter. People on the phone can't see you struggling to speak. So when you have a silent block they can't tell whether the line's dead or you are. Saying something like "I'm stuttering worse than usual today, please bear with me" usually gets a courteous response.

The most amusing (and hostile) phone tactic I've seen was suggested by Thomas David Kehoe's book, Stuttering: Science, Theory and Practice: "Torment listeners! When telemarketers call, exaggerate your stuttering therapy techniques . . . talk really slowly . . . "bounce" or do "voluntary stuttering" on every word! Try to keep the telemarketer on the phone as long as possible by asking stupid questions. . . . Stop thinking that you are wasting listeners' time by intentionally wasting a telemarketer's time."

The best advice for using the phone: Just DO it. It gets easier. Really.

You can post Questions/comments about the above paper to the author before October 22, 2012.

July 24, 2012
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