USING THE TELEPHONE : A Guide for People Who Stutter


Many people - whether they stutter or not - have difficulty using the telephone. Listen to some non-stutterers dealing with phone calls. Some take several seconds to answer. Others may "Um" and "Ah" a lot. Others may be very expressive with their hands or faces, perhaps talking loudly and aggressively. Using the phone can cause a great deal of anguish, and each person must learn to cope with it in his or her own way. If, as a person who stutters, you have a problem using the telephone, then you may find the following advice helpful.


Making a call can usually be split into three phases:

  • preparation
  • the call
  • assessing how you did.
  • Preparation

    Make sure you know why you are calling. Write the key points on paper and have it in front of you when you call. Try phoning a friend or relative just before the big call. This may help relax you. If you have a number of calls to make, list them in ascending order Start with the easiest and work your way up to the most difficult. Do not keep putting off the call you need to make. That will make it even more stressful and difficult.

    The Call

    Quite often the difficult part 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, stutter 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 stutter or not. Pay attention to your fluent speech. Many stutterers forget about their times of fluency and dwell on the stuttering. Savor 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.

    Assessing How You Did

    Most people, not just those who stutter, sometimes make calls when they feel they have been less than fluent or have not managed to get their message across. I you felt that a particular call was stressful and you stuttered more than usual, try to forget it. Adopt a positive attitude; remember there will be other conversations when you will stutter less It is not a disaster to stutter, and you can learn from each speaking experience. At home, tape record your telephone conversations if you can. Note your speech carefully, especailly the speed and he 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.


    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 organization, or even just your name. Use whatever come easiest to you at the 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 if 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 stutter. Be patient with others who may be just as anxious as you and may be putting into practice some of the above points.


  • 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 e the person in your household who answers the telephone. Openly admit that you stutter. This may be very difficult if you have avoided talking about it all your life. Practice talking about your stuttering. Many people have said that talking about it has reduced their anxiety and fear.
  • Watch and listen to non-stutterers using the phone. Listen to their lack of fluency and their hesitation.
  • Give others the benefit of the doubt. If they know you stutter then they are prepared to expect some silences.
  • 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 stutter than to avoid using the phone.
  • When my stutter was its worse, I had a "full-body" stammer. My head would throttle back, eyes roll up, body shake convulsively, and gag as if swallowing my tongue. I'm surprised nobody tried to give me the heimlich maneuver. It was all I could do to hang onto the phone, much less speak into it.

    The bottom line to all the problems you have related is the FEAR of the reaction your listeners are having to your stutter. While this is bad enough when in the presence of the audience, for many (including me) it was worse on the phone where I could not see the listener. I would imagine all manner of ridicule, mockery and other ghastly things going on at the other end of the line.

    Most interaction in the workplace and over the phone, is interrogative. Someone is asking a question, seeking information or validating some they already have.

    KNOWLEDGE IS POWER!! (remember, you saw it here. ;-) I made sure I knew more about my area than anyone else in the company. Then, I made sure other people thought so. I got on every committee, memo distribution list and discussion group I could find. Yeah, I stuttered, but people NEEDED to know what I knew. I found that I was usually the only one that knew what was important to other groups and I knew who to go to for more information. That is POWER.

    I believe attitude has a lot to do with success. I'm not saying be belligerent or talk down to people, but be helpful, become the resource they can trust, and feel comfortable with. Everyone has their own performance issues on the job, some hide it better than others, but every individual is important to the whole, that's why they are called companies.

    YOU are important to that caller, customer or manager, and you will find value in knowing them, even if only briefly. My customers (and in the workplace, co-workers are customers) pay me for information. When they call, I become their "friend in the business". I talk to them like a colleague trying to solve a mutual problem. They have information I need and I have what they need. We both have to share what we know to reach a mutually successful result.

    That's true in virtually all conversations. Complaints are just questions that need answers and understanding. Most of my clients are doctors. When they call me, I become the doctor and they are my patient. I start by asking lots of questions and let them talk and I take profuse and detailed notes.

    Get a small spiral bound notebook, write EVERYTHING in it and carry it with you. Refer to it when you speak. You will be more comfortable because you will be more accurate, and it gives you a reason to relieve the pressure of direct frontal scrutiny by checking your notes as you speak.

    When I stutter, they don't mind as much because they have already had their chance to get what they have to say over with. It also gives them a chance to reflect on how little they know (or even care to know) about the situation and confirms the value of my company and services to their success.

    I look for something in their story that can be humorous and try to get them to see the comedy in the situation, if possible. I NEVER make any disparaging comments about ANYONE, and NEVER repeat things that they don't need to know, or I have not been authorized to pass on. Basic good business sense.

    Most of the time, once I have their input and know what they want to get done, I can thank them for calling and tell them I'll get back to them later or connect to their computer. They are always grateful to be able to get on with their own priorities, and back to what THEY do best, healing people.

    have a client who stutters so much that no one on my staff could understand him, nor had the patience to listen very long. They forwarded his calls to me. The first time I talked to him, I explained that I also stuttered. It was like a new person was on the phone. He took a deep breath, paused and instantly became fluent and relaxed. Now, he likes to call so much he always asks for me and is no longer afraid of the "unknown" judgmental audience at the other end of the line