Many employers hesitate to hire people who stutter (PWS). They hold on to various myths about PWS. As a result, they overlook the true potential of such job applicants.
There are many negative stereotypes related to stuttering. Some of the widely held misconceptions suggest that stutterers are:
- Stressed or anxious.
- Shy and fearful.
- Too careful and self-conscious.
People having no acquaintances who stutter are more likely to believe in these myths.
Often, such negative stereotypes are based on misinformation.
When hiring managers develop such stereotypes they are unlikely to treat stutterers fairly.
Most employers do not know what it means to hire applicants who stutter.
A study published by the National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI) has revealed a worrying trend.
Stutterers aged 18+ years participated in this study. Approximately 70% of participants believed stuttering reduced their chances of getting hired or promoted.
Are you managing hiring operations for your organization?
You can change such unfair hiring practices. You can make sure that your company is not discriminating against PWS.
We will discuss the reasons why employers should hire stutterers.
But first, let us first understand the basics.
What Is Stuttering?
Very few people understand what stuttering is. It is a speech or communication disorder.
It generally appears as:
- Repetitions (e.g. ca-ca-catch that) of sounds or words.
- Long sounds (e.g. caaatch that).
- Unusual halts (absence of any sound) while producing some sounds.
A person who stutters knows what they want to say.
But they have difficulty producing some sounds or words. In the process, the flow of speech is broken.
Stuttering is often accompanied by unusual facial and body movements.
Some of the common signs of stuttering include:
- Excessive blinking of eyes.
- Tightening of fists.
- An unusual jaw or head movement.
- Hesitation before speaking something.
- Refusal to speak.
- Stressed voice.
- Rearranging words in a sentence.
Stuttering can be mild or severe. So, the signs can be more or less noticeable.
Different people stutter differently. The severity also varies across individuals. It may even vary in the same person.
People stutter differently depending upon the situation they are in.
Some situations are more challenging than others. For example, saying one’s name or talking to an authority figure is generally difficult.
So, talking to a supervisor or interviewer can be particularly challenging.
Stuttering generally increases when a stutterer is forced to hide it. Therefore, it is important not to judge or mock stuttering.
The exact causes of stuttering are still unknown. New information continues to surface from time to time.
Existing scientific data suggests that speech disfluencies have a neurological & genetic basis.
Stuttering generally runs in families. Men are almost four times more likely to stutter than women.
There Are Millions of Stutterers in the World
Did you know that approximately 1% of the human population struggles with stuttering?
Well, stuttering is not as rare as you thought.
Nearly 5 out of 100 children aged between 2 and 6 years will stutter at some point. Stuttering normally occurs when young children are developing their speech and language skills.
Almost 4 out of those 5 children will eventually stop stuttering.
Kids stop stuttering by the time they are 7 or 8 years old.
But, 1 out of 5 children will continue stuttering as an adult. And, it is not their fault. There are many complex factors at play.
Unfortunately, there is no sure-shot cure for this.
Stutterers, who receive timely intervention can manage or overcome stuttering more effectively. They can also take the self-therapy route with a smartphone app for stuttering. Many other aids are also available these days.
More than 70 million people stutter globally.
Approximately 3 million people stutter in the United States alone.
Do you represent an organization or are someone responsible for looking after hirings?
There is a good chance you will come across job applicants who stutter.
When you do, keep the following in mind:
Employees Who Struggle With Stuttering Tend to Work Harder
According to speech experts, people who struggle with stuttering generally work harder than those who don’t.
Surprising as it may sound, it is true.
Stuttering individuals work harder to compensate for their speech disfluencies.
Therefore, organizations that dismiss such applicants for employment may be losing a chance to hire a dedicated worker.
You wouldn’t want to do that, right?
So, you need to look beyond the speech disfluencies. This is how you can discover the underlying qualities of a job applicant.
Patience and perseverance are two virtues you will rarely find missing in PWS. They gain these traits while struggling with stuttering.
Put simply, you need to rely on an objective assessment of an applicant’s suitability for a job role.
What does it mean to be objective in this case?
Well, you need to ‘actually’ listen to what a stuttering applicant has to say.
Listen to what they have to say about their skills, abilities, or career goals and not how they say it.
No. You don’t have to compromise on your requirements.
You just need to give them equal opportunities to prove their worth.
Most Stutterers Can Communicate Well In the Workplace
Good workplace communication skills are not limited to being a fluent speaker.
That’s just the tip of the iceberg. Really.
There is a lot more to the art of communication.
Anyone who has been an employer long enough knows that.
There may be fluent speakers in a team who fail to engage customers. Others may lack the skills to handle an unhappy customer.
Experienced hiring managers understand this. They know good communication is not just about being fluent. There are other, important skills as well.
Stutterers try to master the art of listening early on.
Developing their listening skills is a part of their lifelong struggle. This is how they learn to accept and manage stuttering over the years.
If you pay attention, you will notice this almost immediately.
Stutterers tend to be fully present when they are listening to someone. Be it a colleague, vendor, or customer, stutters listen to them patiently. They are more considerate of another person’s inability to quickly communicate their demands or concerns.
Most stutterers experience bullying, harassment, and discrimination at some point in their lives.
This is why they naturally develop the ability to empathize with other people.
Empathy is a great trait to have in your employees today.
Many stutterers learn to get creative to communicate more effectively.
For instance, they may:
- Replace some words.
- Alter their body language.
- Enhance their capacity to quickly come up with some witty or interesting thoughts.
They do it to keep the conversation going in a particular direction. In the process, they also learn to be more diplomatic.
Why should anyone not consider hiring an individual with such ‘people skills’?
Rejecting such applicants simply due to their disfluencies is not wise. This hiring approach can deprive you of ‘people skills’ that make your organization more productive.
Do not disqualify a job applicant simply because they:
- Do not ‘appear to have’ excellent oral communication skills.
- Can’t speak fluently.
- Get stuck on some common words while speaking.
Consider the specific oral communication skills you need. In most cases, you’d just expect an employee to be able to communicate well with colleagues and customers.
Most stutterers can do that to your satisfaction.
Most stutterers do very well in various job roles that require them to communicate with different people daily.
Regardless of their disfluency, they can communicate adequately.
Stuttering Employees Help Promote Better Workplace Communication
It might seem strange but it is true.
Lets first consider what happens when you work with a stutterer.
Here are the two ways communication in the workplace can change:
- You may feel the need to improve your communication style.
- Other employees may also start practicing ‘active listening.
There will be occasions when a stutterer gets stuck. Or, they may struggle to say something. So, while working with a stutterer, a little extra patience is required.
With time, people around PWS learn that everyone communicates differently. Even fluent speakers sometimes find it difficult to convey their thoughts.
Your employees thus become more aware of communication issues. Slowly, they will learn to accept people struggling with various disabilities.
A positive behavioral change, it leads to a more adaptable workforce.
Stuttering is not a Sign of Low Intelligence
Some people assume that stutterers are not intelligent.
This is not true.
There is no link whatsoever between speech disfluencies and intelligence.
According to Beth Gilbert of Psychcentral.com, the average stutterers’ IQ is typically 14 points more than the national average.
So, hiring managers should evaluate a stuttering applicant according to their skill-set and test scores.
They should not base their opinions on myths.
People Who Stutter Are Not Necessarily Stressed, Nervous or Shy
Employers want to hire confident people. They want people in their teams who have a positive outlook on life and work.
It’s a fair expectation.
But, what if a person gets stuck during an interview? What if he or she appears visibly nervous?
You may consider it a red flag. This shouldn’t be the case.
Nervousness and stress do not cause stuttering.
But, a stressful environment can certainly increase stuttering for a short duration.
On such occasions, even a highly talented individual can have a difficult time speaking simple sentences.
Even those who never stutter may get stuck during an interview.
Often, PWS find face-to-face interviews more stressful than fluent speakers. A job interview can be the most challenging situation for a stutterer.
Yes, you would want to know how a person will speak on the job.
But, to figure that out, do not rely on how often an applicant stutterers during an interview.
You are likely to underestimate a person’s abilities if you do that.
Do not assume that PWS is prone to be shy, nervous, anxious, or fearful.
If you have some doubts, you can dig deeper. But, it makes little sense to judge a book by its cover.
Many stutterers try to manage their speech disfluencies by substitution, pauses, and interjection.
For example, each time such stutterers know they are likely to hit a block, they may:
- Try substituting some words.
- Pausing before speaking some words, and.
- Interjecting phrases such as ‘yes, um,’ ‘well, actually,’ ‘um, okay,’ ‘you know,’ etc.
Such modifications can give a false impression that an applicant is confused or nervous. But, in reality, a stutter is merely trying to manage their stuttering.
Now, what about the personality traits of a stutterer?
Stutterers like fluent speakers have a full-range of essential personality traits. It is wrong to make assumptions about the personality type of a candidate.
Do you want to see a stutterer at his or her best?
Consider making arrangements for a slightly less formal interview.
In some countries, making reasonable adjustments for people who stutter during hiring and appraisal may be a legal requirement.
PWS Are Ambitious About their Careers
Did you think stutters are not ambitious enough?
You may be in for a surprise.
PWS are as driven as any other person. They are also serious about their professional growth.
Today, you can find PWS doing well in various job roles. They work as firefighters, soldiers, doctors, lawyers, entrepreneurs, teachers, etc. You will also find PWS working as actors, comedians, singers, and broadcasters.
Thousands of such stuttering individuals have succeeded in different professions.
Sportspersons such as Tiger Woods, Kelly Brown, and Gordie Lane stutter.
Scientists such as Charles Darwin and Isaac Newton used to stutter.
Singers & musicians such as Ed Sheeran, Marc Anthony, B. B. King, Francois Goudreault, etc. also have a history of stuttering.
Famous stuttering actors include Emily Blunt, Samuel L. Jackson, and Nicole Kidman
In other words, stutters can perform in any line of work.
They just need to be offered leadership roles and promotions without any bias.
Yes, such opportunities should be offered as per their skills and domain knowledge.
When You Hire an Employee Who Stutters
A stuttering employee can have a hard time communicating if they are forced to hide their stuttering.
So, make a stuttering employee feel accepted in the workplace. This will help improve their productivity.
Employers should make sure that a stuttering employee is not made fun of. There should be no room for such discrimination.
At the same time, employers need to ensure that stuttering employees are not afraid to get stuck while speaking.
Do not act upset when an employee stutters. Act natural and maintain eye contact.
When talking to them, wait for a few moments when they speak. Let them finish a sentence before you respond. In other words, practice relaxed speech in the workplace.
PWS appreciate employers and managers who allow them to realize their true potential.
Including stutterers in your workforce will enhance your organization’s image as one that ‘encourages ‘diversity’. It sends out a positive message. It shows that you care about ‘inclusion.’