Often, people are unsure about how to respond when talking to people who stutter. This uncertainty can cause listeners to do things like look away during moments of stuttering, interrupt the speaker or fill in words, or simply not talk to people who stutter at all. None of these reactions is particularly helpful, though. In general, people who stutter want to be treated just like anybody else. They recognize-in fact, they may be acutely aware-that their speech is different and that it takes them longer to say things. Unfortunately, though, this sometimes leads the speaker to feel pressure to speak quickly. Under such conditions, people who stutter often have even more difficultly saying what they want to say in a smooth, timely manner. Thus, listener reactions that suggest impatience or annoyance may actually make it harder for people who stutter to speak.
When talking with people who stutter, the best course of action is generally to give them the time they need to say what they want to say. Try not to finish sentences or fill in words for people. Doing so only serves to increase the speaker’s sense of time pressure. Also, suggestions like “slow down,” “relax,” or “take a deep breath” can make the speaker feel even more uncomfortable because these comments suggest that stuttering should be simple to overcome – but it’s not!
Of course, different people who stutter will have different ways of handling their speaking difficulties. Some will be comfortable talking about it with you, while others will not. In general, however, it can be quite helpful to simply ask the speaker what would be the most helpful way to respond to his or her stuttering. You might say something like, “I noticed that you stutter. Can you tell me how you prefer for people to respond when you stutter?” Often, speakers will appreciate your interest. You certainly don’t want to talk down to speakers or treat them differently just because they stutter, but you can still try to find a matter-of-fact, supportive way to let them know that you are interested in what they are saying, rather than how they’re saying it. This can go a long way toward reducing awkwardness, uncertainty, or tension in the situation and make it easier for both parties to communicate effectively.