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Is fluency a communication skill?
By Richard Lee
I have recently drawn up a new CV. As usual I asked my father to check through it critically. Now to put this in context my Dad has a habit of saying exactly what he sees in front of him (sometimes giving offence); without a second thought he pointed out that I should not put that I have 'excellent verbal communication skills' because I stammer. He then continued his appraisal unaware of the crunching body blow he'd just floored me with.
One of the many reasons this hurt me so much was because I have applied to begin a speech therapy course, and am well aware that communication skills are vital to a therapist. I am also going through the long process of getting comfortable with my stammer as a part of me. Where once I wanted to be fluent, I now want to be able to express myself freely, using the richness of the English language to its full. Fluency is not a specific aim any longer.
This had me thinking. Dad had made the assumption that fluency was a communication skill. Well is it? I say a resounding NO.
As long as the stammering is not acute enough to prevent the speaker being understood it should not effect their skills as a speaker. There are of course the secondary characteristics of stammering such as word avoidance, acute anxiety, facial grimaces and poor eye contact which could effect a speaker's communication ability, but if you can eliminate these then a speaker's fluency should not affect their ability to express themselves.
An 'easy stammer' (by which I mean a relaxed stammer without anxiety) is no more than an accent of the voice, similar to a lisp or regional accent. Unless any of these are severe they make no difference other than add colour or distinctiveness to a person's voice.
Another point to recognise is that there is much more to communication than just speech, most importantly it is a two way process. The ability to listen to what someone is saying is rare and is at least as important as being able to speak your own mind. From my experiences of people who have come to terms with their stammer they have all been fantastic listeners. Encouraging people to speak and REALLY listening to what people have to say.
Social skills such as turn-taking, non-verbal cueing, and eye contact are extremely important communication skills. As a stammerer these are often poor, due to behavioural patterns learned to cope with dysfluency. They are not however inborn abilities and can be learned and improved. In fact after appropriate therapy stammerers can develop these skills to a higher level than normal.
A dysfluency doesn't make you a poor communicator. It doesn't even prevent you from being a brilliant communicator. If you can accept your stammer as part of you others will do the same. My best friend told me recently that he hadn't heard me stammer in ages. The truth was that he hadn't noticed me stammer because I just let it happen without it hurting me. I don't fight it, and I don't try to control it.
From the Summer 1999 edition of Speaking Out
See also: Job talk - with experience of acting, singing, sales, and soon to be a therapist, Amy Leggatt insists that effective communication in one's job need not depend on fluency.
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