Building communication skills. BSA's booklet for employees.
This booklet provides practical guidelines and assistance to help you get the job or promotion that you want. There are suggestions on how to improve your communication skills and use these to best advantage, particularly at interviews, and information on your legal rights under the Equality Act 2010.
Overcoming some of the limitations of stammering and learning to accept it can take a long time. You do not need to feel that you have to do everything at once, nor feel a sense of failure if you find it too hard to be open about your stammering. It can be difficult to put employers, managers, work colleagues and customers at ease with yourself and your stammer.
It can be very helpful and rewarding to seek support from someone who knows what it is like. The BSA can help here. Our helpline number is: 020 8880 6590. You can also write to us, or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org. Because stammering affects each person differently, the best way to use this booklet is to take what you need at the time, and adapt it for yourself and to the environment in which you work, or want to work in.
Employers can also be uneasy about stammering. Stammering is not your problem alone, and you do not deserve to be discriminated against.
Stammering and work: Building communication skills
Communication is not the same as fluency. Many people who stammer communicate very well because communication involves a lot more than speech. It involves such things as listening skills, body language, facial expression, and tone/volume of your voice.
Deciding to take control of your stammer is an important first step. Everybody has problems and it is important to keep in mind that your problems may be less serious than those faced by some other people.
"If there's one thing I'm determined of now, it is to never let my stammer prevent me from doing or saying anything. I won't always win, but ... I do know the answer is intrinsically bound up in my sense of self esteem and determination not to play the victim."
A part of good communication is being aware of the real effect your speech has on other people, and not the effect you imagine it has. Although it can be very difficult at first, explaining to someone that you stammer means they are often less embarrassed and more understanding than if they are faced with stammering that they don't know how to respond to. A good way to get used to talking about stammering is to start by discussing it with the person you find easiest to talk to, then moving on to people you find harder to talk to about it. There are some useful books on personal development and CV preparation at the end of the booklet.
Stammering is NOT caused by a psychological or personality problem You don't have to be fluent to be accepted by people. Accepting yourself enables you to change.
Assess your strengths and limitations - finding something to do well builds self-confidence.
You need to make an employer very interested in you. Your CV and application has to make them want to see you even though there may be a speech issue. In your CV, focus on your skills, achievements and examples of your ability to do various jobs. You may want to provide as detailed an account of your experience as space permits, which will give employers a clearer idea of your specific skills. If you do mention your stammer on an application form, give examples of work or other activities that show that it does not have a negative impact.
If you mention your stammer in a CV:
1.List your BSA membership
2.Under a "personal development" heading, list any speech therapy or other speaking courses you may have done
Try to have a good referee available who can talk about your ability to communicate. Preparing a good CV, or statement of selection criteria, is an art in itself, and can make all the difference to being considered for a job. There are special services that can assist with this. See the end of the booklet for details.
Improving speech and communication: courses and resources
It is never too late to work on your speech and how you feel about it. The NHS provides speech and language therapy and there are several independent organisations who run courses of stammering therapy.
Contact the BSA for details.
Many people who stammer have joined speaking groups such as Toastmasters International and the Association of Speakers Clubs who provide good opportunities to give presentations in a supportive and educative environment. A good way to prepare yourself for doing this is to participate in "speaking circles". See the details at the end of the booklet.
Good communication involves interpersonal and presentation skills that do not depend on fluent speech.
Before the interview
If asked to fill out an application form, take some time to describe how you have all the skills and abilities asked for on the person and job specifications. It is essential for being shortlisted and is good preparation for the interview.
When you are invited to an interview you can be sure you have some of the skills and experience the organisation is looking for. Find out as much as you can about the job and the exact skills and experience required. Then prepare and rehearse good relevant examples showing your experience and ability to communicate with people you have worked with. Don't underestimate the level of preparation. Role-play the interview in a comfortable situation with someone asking you questions you would expect in an interview. Your answers will then come more quickly to mind. Use positive reinforcement in your self-talk to build your confidence (for example, "I can do this").
Most people are nervous before and during an interview, so you are not alone. What matters to you is that you stay focused on good preparation.
Many people are likely to be less critical of your speech than you are. Talk about stammering in a positive way, giving an example of how it has helped your personal development and awareness of the needs of other people. If you will need more time it is advisable to request this when accepting the interview offer.
It is very important to practice maintaining eye contact for interviews, even if you are uncomfortable at first. But if you can't, listen carefully to the questions and give the best answers you can.
It is important to feel that you are not doing this all alone. Before and after the interview, talk about any fears and concerns to someone that you are close to. This can make a big difference.
Should I tell the interviewer or panel that I stammer? If so, when?
It depends on the job. Mentioning your stammer can reduce the pressure on yourself and put the interviewers at ease. You can do this at the start, or if you are asked about your areas of strength or weakness. Then you can say how you are turning a potential weakness into a source of strength. Many interviews begin with informal talk, and this can be a good time to make a brief statement, give a positive example and ask for the interviewers' cooperation.
You may have less to lose by mentioning your stammer at the start of the interview, rather than disguising your stammer, with all the stress that can generate. Be prepared to put some thought and practice into finding a good way of saying that you stammer. One option is to give an example of how dealing with stammering has given you motivation and a better awareness of people's needs.
Some interviewers appreciate being told, and will be better able to make an informed decision about your performance in the interview. However, others only want to hear about your skills, not your speech, and may not even consider you for the job if you mention it.
If you fear that you would lose credibility by even mentioning your stammer, consider the effects of stammering in the interview or later, after you have started work. Whatever you decide, be clear of your reasons. If you do clam up, try to talk about it with someone after the interview. While it can be very discouraging, never give up.
If there is some reticence on the part of interviewers when you mention your stammer, it may be caution due to restrictions under Equality Act 2010 on how far they are allowed to ask about disability before a job offer is made.
Your best skills, experiences and qualifications are wasted if they are not communicated at an interview.
Prepare and practice examples showing your experience and communication skills.
Good, natural eye contact is very important.
Assertiveness helps to put you in control, not your stammer.
You cannot take responsibility for the reactions of interviewers.
The interviewers may also be nervous, and are under pressure to find the right person for the job.
Slow the whole process down. Listen carefully and control speech rate by pausing more than normal.
Going into the interview with a positive attitude, and staying positive, will help carry you through the interview. If you can begin fluently, make the most of this, but don't tie yourself down to presenting a fluent image. Although you may feel uncomfortable about stammering, don't make assumptions about what the interviewers are feeling.
Being open and upfront about yourself is essential for making a good impression, regardless of how fluent you are. Disclosure gets easier with practice and takes the pressure off because you need not try to hide something. People often feel more comfortable if the interviewers know they stammer: "if I know they know, I am less likely to stammer."
Show that your skills, experience and knowledge will enable you to do the job and fit into the organisation, by giving clear examples of previous work and how you communicated with people.
Concentrate on answering the questions directly and fully, based on the job requirements and your skills, experience and qualifications. This is of utmost importance - many interviewers will have a list of specific types of experience and knowledge they want to hear for each question, and if you don't include them you will not get the job, no matter how good your interview technique is.
Don't be concerned about asking to hear a question again, or of a few seconds silence after an answer. Interviewers also need time to think.
Timing is important, not only for speech rate and pausing, but for delivering your best points. If you become more tense during interviews, find a way of saying your important points early. If you become more relaxed during interviews, save these for later in the interview.
Neutralise negative attitudes coming from yourself or the interviewers by acting assertively. While you can't take responsibility for how the interviewers respond, being assertive will give you more control and perspective on the situation. Go into the interview expecting to be listened to properly. If you ask for an interviewer's patience, thank them if they are patient. If you are interrupted, ask to be allowed to finish. If you receive negative comments, respond to them with a positive example.
If you feel negative about stammering, particularly when interviewers react negatively, stay with the conversation. By accepting the stammer when it happens, the anxiety that can make you feel removed from a situation is lessened. Accepting that you stammer and avoiding negative self-talk helps you to stay focussed on what you are saying. There are some useful resources at the end of the booklet.
After the interview
It is important to examine the effect your speech may have had on the result of an interview. If you were unsuccessful, was this because of your speech, or because there was someone else more skilled and experienced? Try to get specific feedback. If it is available, it may be helpful.
If you are fairly comfortable with yourself, confident that you performed well, and still get a negative reaction, consider whether you would be able to work for that organisation comfortably. In the light of what you learned at the interview, it is also important to consider how you would meet the demands of the job with a stammer. Setbacks may happen so be prepared for them.
"Don't be afraid to say that you have 'good communication skills'. There is no reason why someone who stammers can't be a good communicator. Good listening skills and an ability to empathise with people are very important skills that have nothing to do with fluent speech. Make sure you mention that you have these qualities and talk about past work and/or life experiences."
Sean Mooney, psychiatric nurse
On the Job
A good strategy when starting a new job is to achieve rapport with a sympathetic colleague. The way they talk with you can then be used as a role model for other colleagues and help you settle in. Being open about your speech may lessen the pressure on you (and quite possibly your colleagues). This will help you to communicate better. Focus on doing the job well, not on how you will come across.
Try to discuss with your line manager how your speech may affect your performance and any changes you would find helpful. They will probably be glad you asked them. Be honest and open with your employer about your speaking abilities and the areas in which you can perform effectively.
- Staying positive in response to new stresses is really important. Write down one or two positive things at the end of each day.
- Once you settle into the job, continue to set personal challenges and goals, as well as those you set with your manager.
- Taking control of your own development by asking questions at team meetings and volunteering to give presentations can provide a big boost to your confidence. The first step here can be to go on a course or join a public speaking organisation. Remember that being nervous is normal, and things will become easier with practice.
- Absorb yourself in your topic to reduce performance anxiety. Your knowledge is important.
- If your team meetings start with everyone introducing themselves, ask the group coordinator beforehand if you can go first or second. This will prevent anxiety building up while you wait for your turn.
- By focusing more on the preparation and presentation process you may have an advantage over fluent colleagues.
- Don't worry about saying less than other people. One manager said that a person who stammered "didn't say a lot, yet it was always worthwhile when he spoke."
- When you are meeting someone for the first time, smile and look interested in them, to help establish a good rapport.
- You need to feel good about your job and the people that you will be working with. You owe it to yourself and you owe it to them. Don't forget that most people will try to be understanding, or won't really care if you stammer.
Like many speaking situations, familiarity breeds confidence. A few coping strategies that have worked for other people who stammer are listed below, and you will probably be able to add to the list.
- Preparation: Write and/or rehearse the opening lines of an important call.
- Grading Calls: Begin with easy calls before making more difficult ones.
- Practice Calls: Making enquiries, appointments and cancellations gives you extra practice and can help to reduce anxiety.
- Mental Focus: Saying the numbers slowly and deliberately as you dial them can give you a moment's breathing space and help you to start the call more confidently.
- Necessity: Everyone has to push through their fears sometimes. Just picking up the phone and making a call can boost self-confidence.
- Desensitisation: What other people might think of you because you stammer is their business. Your business is to make the calls you need to.
- Disclosure: Some people find it helps to tell the other person that they stammer, and to just wait for them to finish what they are saying.
Keep the stammer in context with living and working. There is a lot more to you and your life than the fact that you stammer.
"Nobody ever mentioned my stammer, so I used to feel it was a terrible, dark secret. When I started work at a busy travel agent's, I used every trick in the book to avoid stammering, and came home exhausted. It wasn't until I had some therapy at the City Lit that I became more open about my stammer. The first time I talked to my boss about my speech it took a lot of courage, but his response was very positive, and then it became easier to stammer more openly."
Your legal rights
The Equality Act 2010
The Equality Act 2010 has now replaced the Disability Discrimination Act 1995 (DDA). Like the DDA, the Equality Act says that a person has a disability if he or she has a physical or mental impairment which "has a substantial and long-term adverse effect on [the person's] ability to carry out normal day-to-day activities."
- 'Substantial' only means 'more than minor or trivial' so you should be covered if your stammer has more than a minor or trivial effect in normal day-to-day activities - such as having a conversation or using the telephone.
- The hidden effects of a stammer could be relevant, for example avoiding phone calls, not saying so much during calls, or substituting/inserting words. Also the main definition of disability is extended by more detailed rules which may help in various ways.
- For some types of claim, it may be enough that the employer perceived there to be a disability, even though there is no disability as defined.
Where a person has a disability, an employer's duties under the Equality Act include:
- Not discriminating against someone in relation to the stammer. There are detailed rules on what counts as discrimination. For some types of discrimination, the employer has an 'objective justification' defence if it shows its action is a proportionate means of achieving a legitimate aim.
- Making reasonable adjustments.
- Protection from harassment and victimisation.
Recruitment, training and promotion, job retention, harassment and various other areas are covered by the Act. Only the armed forces are exempt.
Employers cannot justify 'direct discrimination'. An example may be where a job applicant is turned down due to generalised, or stereotypical assumptions about stammering, rather than the employer considering that person's abilities.
Reasonable adjustments from employers could include:
- Extra time during interviews, with greater consideration given to information in writing as well as spoken answers.
- Where appropriate allowing written responses in interviews (or 'text to speech/screen' technology), and/or written alternatives to oral tests or presentations.
- Modifying presentations at work (eg. using a full PowerPoint presentation, support and preparation to enable you to feel confident in the material, having an assistant to deliver some of the content you have prepared, or rather than a full presentation distributing written material before the meeting and just answering questions on it orally).
- Flexibility regarding the use of the telephone (eg. having a colleague take front-line calls, allowing you to modify a set script for answering the phone, reviewing seating positions in an open plan office and/or providing a quieter place for calls).
- Ensuring you have sufficient chance to speak in meetings and presentations.
- Assistance with speech and communication skills development (eg. giving time off to attend speech therapy).
It is sensible for an employer to ask what adjustments would be of most help to you. If you need an employer to make adjustments such as allowing extra time at an interview and/or accepting answers in writing, it is sensible to discuss these in advance.
There are special rules that cover discrimination against people who work through agencies. Self-employed people are also sometimes covered by the Equality Act.
The two ticks scheme guarantees a disabled person an interview if they meet the minimum criteria for a job vacancy. This only applies to employers who display the two ticks in job adverts.
The Equality Act has brought in restrictions on what type of enquiries about disability an employer is allowed to make before the person has been offered a job (outright or subject to conditions) or included in a pool of people to be offered a job.
Employers and employees are encouraged to seek to resolve disputes internally. ACAS conciliation is another route to consider, and from May 2014 claims must be notified to ACAS before putting in a tribunal claim. If you decide to take the claim to an employment tribunal there are usually fees, and a three month time limit from when the discrimination took place. Initial free advice is available from the contacts below. If you are a member of a union, contact your union representative.
Disclaimer: The above is a broad summary and should not be used as a substitute for legal advice. Some useful sources of help and advice are listed below.
Further sources of information
BSA Employment Webpage
www.stammering.org/employment Tel: 020 8983 1003
Helpline: 020 8880 6590
Stammering and equality law website
Equality and Human Rights Commission
Equality Advisory and Support Service
Provides information, advice and support on discrimination issues. It replaces the Equality and Human Rights Commission helpline.
The Disability Law Service
May be able to provide free legal advice to disabled people and representation where appropriate.
39-45 Cavell Street, London E1 2BP
Tel: 020 7791 9800
Will help you negotiate with an employer and may in some cases be able to represent you at a hearing. Check your local phone book for details.
Their solicitors may provide you with free advice and representation. Ring the head office or go to the website to find out if there is one near you.
Law Centres Federation, PO Box 65836, London EC4P 4FX
Tel: 020 7842 0720
CVs, interviews and career advice
Other websites, bookshops and libraries
are also a good source of information on CV preparation and job interviews.
Assertiveness and self confidence
Feel the Fear and do it Anyway, Susan Jeffers
Be Heard Now, Lee Glickstein (Available from the BSA postal library)
Libraries and bookshops will have a range of books in these areas.
Goal Setting For Better Communication
These are intended as a resource for developing good communication skills at work and in general.
- Are you able to be open and upfront about stammering and explain your situation to people as needed?
- Do you have the resolve to persevere with difficulties and the willingness to ask other people for support?
- Can you put others at ease with yourself and the fact that you stammer?
- Are you able to demonstrate to others that stammering does not affect the quality of your work or your ability to work effectively, even though it may cause some difficulties?
- Can you demonstrate an ability to work effectively under pressure as required by the job?
- Can you be assertive if you get negative reactions from others, or seek redress where harassment is a problem?
- Can you demonstrate good communication skills (which are different from fluency) in a variety of situations?
- Do you willingly take on new challenges?
- Do you have the ability to show how dealing with stammering has created resolve/determination and/or empathy with others?
- Do you have the ability to establish contacts for support as needed?
- Do you have the self-knowledge to know what situations and times are likely to be better or worse and the skills to prepare accordingly?
Booklet revised: June 2013 by Sarah Ellison, Specialist Speech and Language Therapist
BSA gratefully acknowledges the support of the Childwick Trust, the Goldsmiths' Company and the Saddlers' Company Charitable Fund for the production of this leaflet.