|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.|
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.