Stuttering, a disability that employees sometimes tame until exhaustion

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Papa Sarr à gauche, Mounah à droite, Félix en haut, Tianyi en bas

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Posted Nov 18, 2021, 4:20 PMUpdated on Nov. 22, 2021, 4:19 p.m.

“I sometimes stutter on words, so please ask me to repeat myself. » Félix prefers to put us at ease from the start of the telephone interview. But the 26-year-old, in charge of communications, is not always quick to put his cards on the table. “I always have this stress of the reaction of the interlocutor. » And to specify: “My fear being that stuttering prevents me from being taken seriously, that it discredits me”.

Yet he knows that in the vast majority of cases, the fear is unfounded and in his daily life, employees do not perceive stuttering badly. But starting a conversation about this communication handicap is difficult, especially since it is the heart of his job.

Firstly because stuttering is not systematic. “I can sometimes speak very normally, confides for his part Tianyi, 33 years old. Especially when I'm with people I know, or when I'm less stressed, less tired. » For this 33-year-old computer engineer, the difficulty is having no control over his speech. Above all, this caution among people who stutter (PQB) is explained by the fear of discrimination. Particularly present when applying.

Even if he has no proof of it, Félix is ​​convinced of having been a victim of it after an interview during which he “quite blocked”. “It's undeniable, stuttering can scare recruiters who wonder ‘Is he going to be able to communicate with the teams?' »

On a position where you have to know how to communicate easily, the recruiter will have doubts, and I understand that.

Mounah has no doubts about the discrimination suffered. This young graduate from Audencia says he had to pass 15 interviews to get a first job while his classmates “with equal skills” passed two. According to him, at least two companies did not hire him because of his stutter. “My skills were recognized but my speech questioned recruiters about my ability to interact with clients. The first even dared to give me explicit feedback on the subject. I was mad…” confides the young man.

“The second company denied it, but the prejudices were confirmed by someone within the structure. » He has since created the Handicapossible.com platform to change the perception of people who stutter in the professional world.

A ground of discrimination confirmed by Sylvie-Elisabeth Brignone, speech therapist, honorary president of the association Paroles Bégaiement. “Between two candidates with equal skills, the recruiter will not take the PQB. And we can understand that. In a position where you have to know how to communicate easily, he will have doubts., she assumes.

However, PQB are obviously not doomed to remain on the fringes of the labor market. “They have to manage to bring up the subject of their stuttering to show the qualities developed thanks to this handicap in communication: strong ability to listen and adapt, courage and even a kind of sportsmanship and knowing how to lose. » A work of reversal in the face of the handicap that she carries out on a daily basis with the patients she accompanies.

6%

The law requires companies with more than 20 employees to have at least 6% of their workforce with disabilities. Failure to comply with this rate results in financial penalties. Stuttering, which affects 1% of English people, can be officially recognized as a handicap.

But not all recruiters are so alert to what PQB can bring. Sometimes, rarely, they don't even show the minimum respect expected. In 2021, we told you about the misadventure of Papa Sarr, candidate for an apprenticeship position in a large company. During his interview, the 24-year-old had a block on a few words, which triggered a giggle from the HR assistant. “His laugh accentuated my stuttering and threw me off balance. I felt weak in front of these people but that didn't stop me from finishing my presentation. » Unfortunately, the HR assistant couldn't control her giggles to such an extent that her colleague had to wave to her to stop.

What follows is happier. Papa Sarr says he received thousands of messages of support following his testimony. But also a dozen proposals from companies that invited him to come for interviews. One led to a work-study contract. “Two great years”, says today the young management controller.

What about the attitude to adopt for the interlocutor?

This episode highlights how sensitive PQB are to stress. And it's a vicious cycle: stress feeds stuttering, and stuttering feeds stress. Félix has always stuttered, but ten years ago he wasn't stressed about speaking in public. Everything gets complicated when it comes time to enter the job market, to take on responsibilities. “From my CDI, stuttering worried me more. It was no longer a simple presentation in progress but I had to exchange with customers, directors. I just thought about that. »

This stress, internalized or expressed, inevitably raises the question of the reaction: how to behave in front of a person who stutters? Should we put her in confidence at the risk of appearing paternalistic or is it better to act as if nothing had happened? To listen to the PQB interviewed, there would not be ONE good attitude. Some like Félix prefer to be told the word they can't say. Others like Tianyi want to be given time. And it is rather this attitude that predominates, according to speech therapist Sylvie-Elisabeth Brignon, who insists on the fact that most are very keen to finish their words.

For the specialist, the key remains benevolence. “Don't hesitate to ask: ‘Do you want me to help you' or to reassure: ‘Don't worry, I have plenty of time', ‘Sit down, we can have a drink' ». Unfortunately, this defusing often remains complicated to stimulate. “Stuttering is still taboo”, she says.

Kindness and listening

On the website of his association, it is advisable to adopt an attitude of the active interlocutor, by being more interested in the content of the remarks than in the form, without being disconcerted by the stuttering. It is also appropriate to send listening signals such as nods, “hums” and reminders such as “I'm listening”.

Félix explains for his part that a person who maintains eye contact with him helps him to keep his word. On the other hand, an embarrassed person, who will look to the right or to the left, creates for the PQB a feeling of stress and shame. “Am I not interested, is my stutter stressing him out?” » he wonders.

“I'm always more confident when people ask me ‘Ah, you stutter, where does it come from?', ‘Do you live it well?' I feel that the person takes into account the stuttering and that it does not pose a problem for him », explains the young man.

With or without this benevolence, stuttering remains a psychological burden. “It's exhausting, Felix insists. In addition to thinking about the substance of what we say, we constantly struggle to avoid blockages. The brain is boiling. » And to add: “That is why I prefer to talk about it. By breaking the ice, I lighten this psychological burden. »

Above all, do not lock yourself in

Tianyi prefers not to be treated differently. “I don't feel penalized by this handicap, I perform very well at work despite the stutter. »

However, the engineer is aware of the frustration that his stuttering engenders in him, by the fact of not being able to express himself as he would like. “I'm always afraid of being cut off, of not having the time to express my ideas and my emotions. » However, there is no question of being silent. “Even though I know I'm going to stutter, I speak up. » Because there is the other threat that weighs on the PQB: isolation and loss of self-confidence. Félix admits, for example, having slowed down in his career. “As soon as I was offered a mission with a lot of customer contact, I fled. »

It is to stop this infernal circle that Félix like Tianyi registered for the contest “The eloquence of stuttering” reserved for PQB. Objective: learn to speak in front of an audience and ultimately, to free yourself. Félix stopped at the gates of the final (which will take place on November 23) but no matter, “Since then I feel much better”.

It is Mounah, quoted above, who is at the origin of the project. “This contest is a training to excel, to feel better both personally and professionally and to succeed in doing what seemed impossible”, explains the one who confides that he was unable to say two words in a row when he was younger and who, by dint of speaking challenges, is now a consultant, “with a majority of the job spoken”.

How to Calm Stuttering

Sylvie-Elisabeth Brignone insists on the role of relaxation in curbing stuttering before an interview or an important meeting. An extremely powerful instrument, according to her, which acts on the three factors that rise with the stress that increases stuttering: muscle tension, respiratory and cardiac activity.

Conclusion

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