Minding Miss Manners: Advice for Speaking with a Person Who Stutters

This week, the nationally-syndicated advice column “Miss Manners”advised readers on speaking with a person who stutters. Judith Martin, the legendary “Miss Manners” advice columnist since 1978, responded to an inquiry about the proper protocol when speaking with a person who stutters.

The reader asked:

“DEAR MISS MANNERS: What is the proper protocol when speaking with someone who has a stutter? Is it considered helpful or rude to assist him in completing a sentence or question?”

Miss Manners responded:

“GENTLE READER: How can you assist someone in completing his or her statement unless you already know what that person was intending to say? And if you already know what is going to be said, why bother holding a conversation?

“So yes, it is considered rude to finish other people’s sentences. And Miss Manners wants it to be clear that this applies not only to stutterers, but to spouses as well.”

“Miss Manners nailed it,” said Jane Fraser, president of the Stuttering Foundation. “We are thrilled that she chose this topic to address in her column, which is syndicated to more than 200 newspapers nationwide and reaches millions of readers. This is one of the most frequently asked questions we receive, and her response is the perfect advice for anyone curious about speaking with a person who stutters.

“Stuttering may look like an easy problem that can be solved with some simple advice,” added Fraser, “but for many adults, it can be a chronic life-long disorder.”

Here are our 6 tips for speaking with someone who stutters.

1. Don’t make remarks like: ‘Slow down,’ ‘Take a breath,’ or ‘Relax.’ Such simplistic advice can come across as demeaning rather than helpful.

2. Let the person know by your manner that you are listening to what he or she says — not how they say it.

3. Maintain natural eye contact and wait patiently and naturally until the person is finished.

4. Refrain from finishing sentences or filling in words.

5. Be aware that those who stutter usually have more trouble controlling their speech on the telephone or in stressful situations, such as a presentation before an audience or job interview. Please be extra patient in these situations and give them some additional time to communicate their thoughts.

6. Speak in an unhurried way — but not so slowly as to sound unnatural. This promotes good communication with everyone.”

Posted Feb. 26, 2014