On March 23, the National Stuttering Association (NSA) held a webinar on “Resilience at Work for People Who Stutter.” This workshop, led by Ariel Mahlmann and Carl Coffey, focused on the importance of self-advocacy in the workplace for people who stutter (PWS). More than 70 people attended the webinar, and dozens shared personal accounts of work-related challenges and breakthroughs via the Zoom chat and on-screen.
To frame the topic of resilience, the hosts asked the audience to “think of a time when your day was ruined at work because of your stutter.” Ariel and Carl started by sharing past situations in which they felt defeated because they could not say what they wanted to say.
Both of their stories took place either during or soon after college, and these difficulties made them feel like something about their speech, or their attitude toward their speech, needed to change.
Before hearing from the webinar participants, Carl and Ariel gave a broad overview of the word resilience, which they defined as “the capacity to recover quickly from difficulties.” They stressed that resilience is not necessarily about getting rid of fear, but instead, it’s about recognizing fear and anxiety in a given situation and still engaging in the situation anyway. Building resilience entails learning how to process your feelings before and after a stressful event, which can help you approach future events with a better mindset. Additionally, people are always building resiliency through their everyday actions, even actions that may seem insignificant.
The hosts then posed the question, “Why do we need resiliency?” This is an important question for anyone, but it is especially relevant to stuttering in the workplace. There will be many tough situations at work, in which PWS will feel judged by their co-workers or bosses for not speaking fluently. Being resilient in this context means putting yourself out there every time, despite any feelings of judgment. Ariel and Carl pointed out that it doesn’t necessarily become easier to show your stutter at work, but by doing so time and time again, you are becoming a stronger person. Similarly, progress in these situations is not defined by one’s fluency, but it is instead marked by one’s overall effectiveness as a speaker, which is unrelated to fluency.
In the final segment before the audience participation segment, Carl and Ariel challenged the participants to “think of a time when your mood was temporarily dampened at work because of your stutter.” This statement represents a change in perspective when compared to the statement at the beginning of the workshop (“Think of a time when your day was ruined at work because of your stutter”). This new perspective emphasizes the idea that one “bad” stuttering situation doesn’t have to ruin your whole day. In fact, such an experience can actually be a net positive because it enables you to build resilience.
The last portion of the webinar featured 14 different audience members who shared their stories at work as PWS. A common theme among the speakers was a feeling of anxiety while in work meetings or during presentations. Participants shared the difficulties associated with stuttering openly, which includes the fear of being viewed as less intelligent and less certain that everyone else. However, a few speakers noted that their co-workers actually had a more positive reaction to their stutter than they anticipated. As one person said, “You’re the one who cares about your stutter more than others do.”
Overall, many of the participants who shared their journeys capped off their stories with a positive takeaway. Here are five memorable quotes from the evening:
- “You take the power away from others by stuttering openly. By doing this, you’ve stayed true to yourself.”
- “I have to be kind to myself after having a hard time in a meeting. I have to remember to be my own cheerleader.”
- “Selling ourselves as people who stutter is so important. We’ve gained so many positive traits from stuttering, such as resiliency.”
- “I own my stutter now. We need to own this. Stuttering is our strength.”
- “When things get tough, there’s still light at the end of the tunnel.”
This webinar was recorded on March 23, 2021, and is part of a series of free online workshops addressing Stuttering in the Workplace – http://www.WeStutter.org/CareerSuccess.
Author Danny Chiarodit is originally from North Hollywood, CA and is currently attending the University of Pennsylvania where he studies psychology. After graduating in May, he will be applying to graduate schools to earn a PhD in clinical psychology. Danny is involved with the Philadelphia NSA Chapter and volunteers his time as an NSA Ntern.