articleThis content is more than 5 years old.

Using The Telephone

Edwin Farr | 03.01.2000

The telephone can be daunting - here's some simple advice!

Many people whether they have a stammer or not, can have difficulty using the telephone.

Person speaking on phone, saying "I'm sorry, I'm not on the phone".Listen to some non-stammerers dealing with telephone calls - some people take several seconds to answer, collecting their thoughts or perhaps clearing their mind. Some may "Um" and "Ah" a lot and are often less than fluent. Others can be very expressive with their faces and even their hands, perhaps talking very loudly and aggressively.

Using the telephone can cause a great deal of anguish and people learn to cope with it in their own way.

If, as a stammerer, the telephone is a particular problem then you may find the following practical suggestions helpful.

Making calls

Making a telephone call can usually be split into three phases: Preparation; the Call; Assessment.


Make sure you know why you are phoning. Have key points on paper front of you.

Try phoning a friend or relative just prior to making the big call. This may help relax you and put you in the right frame of mind for phoning. If you have a number of calls to make, list them in ascending order, and tackle first the ones you fear the least. Do not keep putting off the call you need to make That call will only become even more difficult and stressful.

The Call

Quite often the difficult bit is getting through to the right person. If you are confronted by a switchboard operator, for example, would an extension number or department be easier to say than someone's name? Have some alternative first words in mind, be flexible in what you want to say.

If you do start to block, stammer openly, gently and easily; try not to force the words out and most importantly remember to speak slowly.

Do not worry too much about silences, they occur in all conversations. Concentrate on what you have to say, rather than worry about any blocks.

Your purpose is to communicate, whether you have a stammer or not. Pay attention to your fluent speech. Many stammerers forget about their times of fluency and dwell on the stammering. Savour your fluency, make other calls when feeling more fluent, strike while the iron is hot. Fluent speech breeds confidence and confidence breeds fluent speech.

Watching yourself in a mirror while phoning can be helpful as you will be able to see where the tension lies in your face and other parts of your body. If you persevered with a difficult call and felt you communicated well then praise or treat yourself and remember the good feeling that a successful call gave you.

The Assessment

Most people, not just stammerers, sometimes make calls when they feel they have been less than fluent or have not quite managed to get their message across.

If you felt that a particular call was stressful and you stammered more than usual, try to forget it. Adopt a positive attitude, remember there will be other conversations when you will stammer less. It is not a disaster to stammer, and you can learn from each speaking experience.

At home, tape-record your telephone conversations if you can. Note your speech carefully, especially the speed and the lead up to any blocks; try to learn from each recording, and prepare a strategy for the next call. Doing this over a period of time will help to identify certain recurring problems and words.

Receiving calls

This is the area over which you have least control. However, even here you can go part way to easing some of the pressure you may feel. Always answer the call in your own time. Don't rush to the telephone. Again have key word options ready: your extension number, name of your organisation, or even just your surname. Use whatever comes easiest to you at that moment.

If you receive a call within earshot of other people concentrate solely on that call.

Accept that others may hear and see you block, but do not allow their presence to distract you from your phone call.

Don't be afraid of initial silence on the phone it you struggle for your first word. It is quite common for someone to answer the phone and then not speak, either because they're finishing a conversation with a colleague or because they have picked up someone else's phone and are waiting for them to return to their seat. The person phoning you may also be a stammerer. Be patient with other stammerers, who may be just as anxious as you and may be putting into practice some of the above points.

General advice

Practice should help you to feel happier about using the telephone. Confront your fear of the telephone. Talk about what it is that you fear happening and what you can do about it. Try to be aware of situations where you avoid using the telephone and gradually tackle these calls. Make the most of local calls for practice. Choose to use the telephone rather than write letters. Try to be the person in your household who answers the telephone. Openly admit that you have a stammer. This may be very difficult if you have avoided talking about it all your life.

Practice talking about your stammer. Many people have said that talking about their stammer has reduced their anxiety and fear of stammering.

Watch and listen to non-stammerers using the phone. Listen to their lack of fluency and their hesitation.

Give non-stammerers the benefit of the doubt. If they know you stammer then they are prepared to expect some silences.

Why not become part of the BSA Telephone Link-up Scheme? This consists of members who want to practice their telephone technique and who would be happy for you to phone them or for them to phone you. Finally, practice, practice, practice. Do not let that modern-day piece of plastic dominate your life. It is far better to use the phone and stammer than avoid using the phone.