Stuttering is a speech-disorder that affects well over 70 million people worldwide. Stutterers form nearly 1% of the human population.
During your entrepreneurial journey, there is a good chance that you will come across job applicants who stutter.
Due to numerous misconceptions surrounding speech disfluencies exhibited by people who stutter (PSW) as well as lack of information on what it means to hire PWS, entrepreneurs and hiring managers are often reluctant to hire them.
A survey-study by Klein and Hood, for instance, revealed a sad reality – more than 70% of the participating stutterers agreed that speech disfluencies decreased their chances of getting employed or promoted in the workplace.
This then begs the question…
Why Do Employers Hesitate to Hire A Stuttering Candidate?
Employers and hiring managers refrain from hiring stutterers due to a multitude of myths, negative stereotypes, and misconceptions about people who stutter.
Some of the common misconceptions dub stuttering individuals to be shy, anxious, fearful, vulnerable to stress, bad at communicating, self-conscious, and too careful or incapable of taking risks.
There is no truth in these myths.
It is easy to believe in these misconceptions especially if you or your HR managers have never had friends, relatives, or acquaintances who stutter.
Most potential employers acquire and nurture such misconceptions about PWS from popular media, social media, memes and, sometimes, from society.
Before we dive into the reasons why entrepreneurs should be willing to hire candidates who stutter, let us first understand the basics.
Why Do Some People Stutter?
A person who stutters has trouble speaking at times.
Different people stutter differently. It’s a complex disorder and it has nothing to do with their ability to face challenges, handle problems, or finish allotted tasks.
Stutters may appear as:
- Prolongations or long sounds
- Sudden halts or blocks
In most adults, stuttering is accompanied by unusual facial expressions and body movements while talking. They may blink fast, tighten their fists or clench their jaw in an effort to say certain words.
Now that you’ve understood the basics, let us look at the reasons why you should consider recruiting job applicants who stutter.
1. Stuttering Is Nobody’s Fault
Some hiring managers may assume that a candidate is stuttering simply because they haven’t tried hard enough to manage their stuttering.
This isn’t true. Stuttering like many other conditions, is nobody’s fault.
Stuttering tends to cluster in families. Recent research shows that multiple genetic mutations can be responsible for neurological anomalies that contribute to unusual speech processing and production.
However, none of these mutations has any effect on a person’s cognition and overall intelligence.
2. Stuttering Is NOT an Indication of Poor Vocabulary
These symptoms do not indicate that the person doesn’t know what to say or that they have a poor vocabulary.
Stuttering job-applicants are not shy or fearful of challenges.
Contrary to popular belief, PWS have an expansive vocabulary because they often replace their feared words with synonyms.
They are perfectly capable of expressing themselves, but they need a little more time than the fluent speaker.
You must not judge all PWS by your first encounter with someone who stutters. Everyone stutters differently and the severity of stuttering also varies significantly.
3. Stutters During an Interview Are Not an Indication of How A Candidate Will Communicate at Work
Many stutterers are highly educated and have the experience necessary for holding a job.
Disqualifying a person because s/he performed poorly during a time-limited interview is quite unfair.
Many PWS stutter worse under pressure. Whether it’s a face-to-face interview or an e-interview, you must allow them some extra time to finish what they have to say.
Anyone can be anxious before a job interview. Some of us sweat profusely. Some of us are unable to eat on the morning of the interview. Similarly, PWS may show excessive repetitions, blocks or prolongations before and during the interview.
It’s a sign that they are taking the meeting with you seriously!
We have all experienced cold sweats at least once before talking to an interviewer or supervisor. After all, we are all human. That’s exactly what we need to remember while interviewing someone who stutters.
4. Stuttering Employees Tend to Be More Dedicated
According to several speech-language experts, people who stutter work harder than most with fluent speech.
It’s simple human psychology. PWS try to compensate for their speech disfluencies by working more dedicatedly.
Any firm that’s discounting an applicant because s/he stutters may be losing out on a prized employee.
As an employer, you need to evaluate every application objectively.
Ask yourself, “What would I do if this applicant didn’t stutter?”
Does s/he qualify the criteria you’ve set for hiring the best staff?
Listen to what the applicant has to say rather than paying attention to how s/he is saying it.
That’s one way to ensure that you are being fair in your decision.
5. Stutterers Can Communicate Well at Work
As an entrepreneur, you must have hired many fluent speakers over the years.
Are all of them equally good at communicating? Are they all team players? Can they all resolve customer queries and complaints with equal expertise? Do they know how to keep customers onboard?
You can see where we are going with this.
Good communication is not just about being fluent.
We have actors, stand-up comedians, singers, world-class entrepreneurs and politicians who stutter.
Stuttering doesn’t make a person a bad communicator. Poor communication skills do.
A stuttering job applicant may be just the right kind of employee for your startup.
PWS have been developing their listening skills and their ability to communicate ever since their childhood.
Many PWS communicate efficiently (sometimes without stuttering) by using one or more of these techniques:
- Replacing difficult/feared words
- Altering their body language
- Listening closely and presenting out-of-the-box ideas
PWS have faced bullying, mockery, condescension and discrimination throughout their lives. It’s only natural for them to develop at least one of these skills as a compensatory defense mechanism.
6. Stuttering Doesn’t Indicate Low Intellect
Beth Gilbert from Psychcentral.com states that the IQ of the average person who stutters is typically around 14 points higher than the national (US) average.
Just because a person stutters, doesn’t mean s/he is not intelligent. There is no evidence to link stuttering with low IQ.
If you are responsible for interviews, evaluation and hiring, instead of focusing on stuttering, you should compare the person’s application with other applicants in terms of their experience, eagerness to work, educational qualification and the desired skill set.
7. Stuttering Individuals Are Ambitious
The only thing that distinguishes an applicant who stutters from the one that doesn’t is their speech disfluency.
There is simply no reason to assume that PWS like to settle for less or that they have no ambition in life. Yes, your startup’s dream-team can have a stuttering employee as well.
If you believe that stuttering professionals aren’t ambitious, you are in for a big surprise.
Let’s say a few names and see if you know them – Sir Isaac Newton, Sir Charles Darwin, Joe Biden, B.B King, Ed Sheeran, Marc Anthony, Elvis Presley, Emily Blunt, James Earl Jones, Bruce Willis, Samuel L. Jackson, Alex Carter, Johnny Damon, Bo Jackson, Ron Harper and Darren Sproles.
The list is incredibly long because PWS can achieve any feat, just like their fluent speaking peers, if given the chance.
Judging someone’s skills based on how they talk would be completely unfair, wouldn’t it?
When You Have A Stuttering Employee
After you have hired someone who stutters, make sure they are comfortable in the workspace. Impose a strict no-bullying or mocking policy, if there isn’t one already.
Refrain from finishing their sentences or hurrying them through their speech.
Speak slowly and wait for them to finish responding.
PWS appreciate equal opportunities that allow them to showcase their true potential.
At the same time, hiring someone who stutters sends a positive message about your organization.
In a world filled with diversity, it’s time your company became inclusive.
About the Author
Meet Singhal is a Person who Stutters and the founder of Stamurai – a speech therapy app containing stuttering modification and fluency shaping strategies, tools like DAF, meditations, scientific assessments and community support to help PWS overcome stuttering. An engineer by training, he has been practicing self therapy for the past 7 years and is passionate about helping PWS lead normal lives.