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Stammering is the way some of us talk. It’s not good or bad. It’s just different. Stammering is increasingly being seen as an example of neurodiversity. Some of us stammer openly and confidently whilst others go to huge lengths to hide their stammering, and others sit somewhere in between.
Stammering is no more than itself. It doesn’t reflect our intelligence or our personality, or our skills and competence, or our ability to be great communicators. It just means that we stammer. No more or less than that. Indeed, stammering can bring a slew of advantages in its wake. For example, many of us who stammer are wordsmiths and thoughtful communicators, choosing and honing our words carefully. We can also be great listeners and alive to the subtleties of communication. Many of us are also interesting and engaging speakers, with a communication style that makes us memorable.
Yet standard recruitment and interviewing procedures may disadvantage people who stammer and mean that you’re missing out on candidates who could bring a wealth of talent to your organisation.
Replace the phrase “excellent communication skills” in job adverts with a clear description of what you’re looking for
Candidates who stammer may choose not to apply for posts which use the over-used phrase “excellent communication skills”, so don’t use it. Instead, describe the communication demands of the role, e.g., “responding to telephone enquiries from concerned or worried customers”, “providing written content for our user manuals”, or “providing in-person training sessions for large groups of people”.
Don’t assume stammering precludes someone from carrying out a particular role
Stammering and its impact are hugely variable from person to person. There are lots of false stereotypes out there about stammering. These stereotypes suggest that people who stammer are nervous or weak, that we can’t be leaders or that we aren’t great communicators. These aren’t true. If you need convincing, take a quick look at this webpage, with examples of people who stammer working in a huge range of roles and professions.
Create an environment that facilitates safe disclosure of stammering
It’s normal for stammering to vary from day to day and from situation to situation. Although stammering often meets the criteria for disability within the terms of the Equality Act or the DDA, the variability means that some people who stammer are unsure whether to note it as a disability on application forms. For this reason, creating a welcoming environment for disclosure can be really useful. When inviting applicants for interview, consider including the following:
“We want to find the best candidate for this job and are keen to ensure you can demonstrate your competence and knowledge at an interview. Here’s a description of how we typically conduct our interviews [insert description]. If there’s anything in that process which might make it difficult for you to show us what you can do, don’t hesitate to let us know. We’re happy to discuss your concerns and consider making appropriate adjustments for your interview.”
Be aware of the challenges of introductions and intercoms
Many (but not all) people who stammer tend to do so on their name when they’re on-the-spot or under time pressure. For this reason, announcing ourselves via intercom on arrival at a building, reporting in at a reception desk, or making those introductions at the beginning of an interview can be extremely stressful and impact on someone’s performance during an interview. Consider more flexible procedures for all your candidates. Alternatively, let your candidates know what the standard procedure is for accessing the building and for introductions in the interview, and welcome a discussion about their preferences.
Discuss reasonable adjustments to interview or assessment procedures
Where it has a non-trivial impact on day-to-day activities, stammering is considered a disability, and organisations have a duty to make reasonable adjustments to their standard procedures to ensure that job applicants who stammer are not disadvantaged. There are a whole host of simple reasonable adjustments you can make to reduce the disadvantage that standard recruitment procedures can create for people who stammer. See these pages on the STAMMA website for examples or contact email@example.com for more tailored information.
STAMMA is the UK’s national charity, supporting people who stammer and their networks. If you have questions or are looking for support or information, our helpline and webchat services are open 5 days per week. Or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Kirsten Howells works for STAMMA as Programme Lead for Adults as well as coordinating the organisation’s helpline and webchat services. She stammers herself and has a background as a specialist Speech & Language Therapist.