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Deliberate dysfluency? Just the ticket

Steve Sheasby | 01.06.2008

In a BSA conference call in January 2008 about his experience of the McGuire Programme, Steve Sheasby gave an example of resolving an approach-avoidance conflict through voluntary stammering.

One of the key points Joseph Sheehan made was that being a little bit more dysfluent than you actually are helps. For all of my life I was trying to pretend I was a fluent speaker, but every time I opened my mouth it was very evident I wasn't! That led into avoidance of situations and of words and sounds.

An interesting little occurence happened when I was waiting in a queue for a ticket at Liverpool Street station. Something about the situation - maybe visual stimuli or sounds - brought back an approach-avoidance conflict: the desire to be seen as a fluent speaker versus the fear of being perceived as a stammerer. I was in the queue and thinking 'That's interesting, because that's really quite an important thing.' This approach-avoidance conflict could easily have led to holding back or performance fear etc, and that could have turned into efforts to avoid, and struggle behaviour. So when it came to my turn, I went up to the ticket window and started with a very nice deliberate dysfluency: "C-can I have a s-single to Brimsdown?" That initial deliberate dysfluency or voluntary stammering on the first word resolved the conflict in myself so I was no longer trying to portray myself as a fluent normal speaker. It also indicated to my listener that I wasn't fluent. But because I did it with relaxed manner and good eye contact they were matter of fact about it.

I wasn't primarily doing it to put my listener at ease - I was more concerned about myself, about putting myself at ease. An important thing I've got into the habit of since I did the McGuire Programme in May 2007 is assertively thinking about what I want out of a conversation with somebody. Before I was always thinking what was the listener thinking of what I was saying. So assertiveness is becoming a habit, as well as the McGuire breathing technique.


Another opportunity for some very public deliberate dysfluency came earlier this year. I work for the Royal Household. When their Football & Social Club announced that it was organising a Bingo Evening for staff at Buckingham Palace, I couldn't resist volunteering my services as a Guest Bingo Caller.

One of the Five Directions of the McGuire Programme is to 'Keep pushing out your comfort zones by challenging your feared situations'. I have to admit though that being a Guest Bingo Caller was never a feared situation of mine simply because I never even considered it in my wildest dreams before. Before joining the Programme I would never have considered anything like this. But now with a sound speaking technique and an inquisitive mind, I thought this would be a great opportunity - forgive the dramatic language - to twist the tail of the stammering monster that has controlled my life for too long. I was going to do this with Deliberate Dysfluency.

As well as showing the audience through deliberate dysfluency that I was a recovering stammerer, I also told them by inserting the simple phrase 'recovering stammerer' after my name. Assertive self-acceptance seems to be the name of the game when dealing with stammering. I was deliberately dysfluent on the usual bingo rhyming calls e.g. 'b, b, baker's bun sixty-one' and 'p, pick-and-m, m, mix twenty-six' but also added a few specific to stammering e.g. 'm, m, m, m, make 'em wait fifty-eight'. Ha ha!

So how did the audience take it? At first I sensed a certain uncertainty as to what was going on. In the past, if they encountered stammering, they probably picked up the feelings of the stammerer which traditionally have been shame and embarrassment. But here was stammering being dealt with in a matter-of-fact way and as a comic device. They soon realised what was going on and there was much laughter.

I certainly achieved what I set out to do: disclose to a large number of people that I am a proud recovering stammerer, make people laugh with me rather than at me, and raise the awareness of stammering. As a result of the evening The Royal Household Football & Social Club decided to donate £50 to your favourite charity: The British Stammering Association

From the Summer 2008 issue of 'Speaking Out', page 7