National Stuttering Association

Shea QuinnHelicopter Pilot

    Shea Quinn

    Jacksonville, FL
    Helicopter Pilot
    United States Coast Guard

    Briefly describe your daily job duties.
    I am a U.S. Coast Guard helicopter pilot for maritime search and rescue missions and counter narcotics interdictions.

    As a person who stutters, share the most challenging part of your job.
    Although I do a lot of public speaking for my administrative duties and a great deal of talking on the radio while flying, I think the pre-flight crew briefings is the most challenging part of my job. The briefing sets the tone for the entire flight, so it’s critical to present yourself as an effective communicator. Some days I feel that demand more heavily than other days.

    Did you self-disclose your stuttering during the job hiring process? If so, how did you do it and how do you currently disclose your stuttering to unsuspecting co-workers, clients and or customers?

    I did disclose but it was in my medical record. There was also a read aloud test as a part of the initial medical screening process, so my stutter advertised itself. I was initially medically disqualified from the Coast Guard but I was able to obtain a waiver through an additional series of interviews with medical officers.

    Now, I try to be very forward about advertising the fact that I stutter. At the start of every presentation, briefing, or other speaking engagement at which I am in front of an unfamiliar audience, I advertise the fact that I stutter immediately after introducing myself by offering an “admin note about myself.” This seems to put both me and the audience at ease. I have received a lot of positive feedback from listeners that my introduction actually made them more interested and engaged with the content I was speaking on because of, to use their words, the “honesty, truthfulness, and simplicity” of my introduction.

    Describe how stuttering makes you a better, more valued contributor at work.
    Stuttering has undoubtedly made me a better listener and has enhanced my “crew resource management” skills as the Coast Guard would term it. The thousands of instances throughout my life, both in and out of the military, where I wasn’t listened to because of my stutter, has taught me to hear and understand the whole message before developing a response. This prevents the all too common mistake of hearing only the response you want, thereby leaving the other person feeling ignored, belittled, and ostracized, greatly diminishing their input to the team when responding to a given situation.

    In aviation, especially with the small crew size of many Coast Guard helicopters, the input of every member is critical to mission success. Therefore, fostering an environment of healthy communication both inside and outside the aircraft is paramount. Without the lifelong struggle (or gift) of stuttering, I would have had much greater difficulty promoting such effective communication.

    What is your proudest moment at your current company?
    My proudest moment at my current unit has actually recurred several times over, and continues to re-surface on a regular basis. It comes about every time someone at the unit approaches me to tell me how much they enjoy when I speak at “All Hands” events and unit trainings. I’ve been told by many people that I am very entertaining and that I deliver information very well. Although I have often thought they were just being nice, the consistency of the positive feedback has taught me otherwise. To have such success and to receive such positive feedback after exposing a vulnerability through advertising my stuttering is great motivation to continue doing so.

    (Thank you Ms. Paula Bacolini and Dr. Phil Schneider for developing my willingness to advertise my stuttering.)

    What are your long-term career aspirations?
    I hope to serve twenty years in the Coast Guard and fly most of, if not all of that time. I’m looking forward to teaching and encouraging young “nugget” pilots as they progress through their various upgrades and qualifications to become Aircraft Commanders. I’m still toying with the idea of starting a helicopter skiing business after retiring from the Coast Guard.

    What’s your best advice for people who stutter just entering the workplace and for those in a career striving to achieve greater success?
    Be up front and honest about your stuttering. Disarm the critics by advertising your stuttering as often as you can. Own your stuttering and you will gain immediate respect from your co-workers.

    Change your mindset from a focus on fluency to a focus on effective communication. There is so much more to communication than not stuttering. Fluency is not essential to mission success.