Tag Archives: Courage

Judged Response

One afternoon, whilst speaking to my closest friend Errin Yesilkaya, we wanted to do something. Just something. An exhibition sprung to mind, then I must have stammered shortly after this revelation. There we have it. Judged Response, an exhibition which places explicit focus on stammering, celebrating the differences of those people who stammer, demonstrating these differences and challenges through the medium of art, which has no boundaries, as you are not bound by what you can utter. The visual nature of the artistic medium allows for freedom of expression which people who stammer may struggle with otherwise. This was our idea and vision.

Errin and I brought Shahram Saadat on board as a person who stammers. After many meetings, we decided on our idea and proposed this to Arts SU, the Student Union of University of the Arts London where we all study BA (Hons) Photography at London College of Communication (LCC). We were successful in gaining an exhibition space at LCC, thus then our creation and curation of the exhibition began.

Our motivation for this stammering and art fusion was primarily the fact that stammering has not as such been greatly presented in an artistic context. This exhibition would be an accessible way for anyone, someone who stammers, someone who has knowledge of stammering, or ideally, no knowledge at all of the complexities of stammering to engage with the day-to-day struggle of speech. Ideally, this exhibition would be as public as possible, detached from the white space of the gallery and firmly placed within the public domain for maximum impact and a realisation from the public that stammering is a challenge and not something to be mimicked, laughed at or perceived as a weakness.

Audience and raising awareness was a key reason for us curating an exhibition of this nature. Stammering is something which is talked about, however, while it is talked about, it is not an easy subject to be public about due to the sensitivities of the subject matter, the differing views and effects it has on people who stammer, so any kind of public exposure of stammering has to be carefully, ethically thought through. Art, to some extent, has no limits, it is the artist’s personal perspective, not those of an organisation, so it has the potential to accurately represent (particularly if the artist stammers) the insecurities, strengths, niggles, that stammering brings up.

The three of us each exhibited a work of our own (I was the odd one out, presenting two), all communicating varying themes and aspects of the nature of stammering. Errin’s piece, £137.80, speaks for the way in which our consumerist culture may view people who identify themselves as having a disability are viewed within society. Shahram’s piece, Appropriated Reactions, focuses in on the facial expressions a person who stammers may experience when speaking with someone. My works, Subtitled Liberation and We Judge Because We Don’t Understand, through text in a physical and video sense, provides a liberating, anonymous, fluent opportunity for multiple people who stammer to express their true emotions about the struggle of having a stammer.

The Private View was extremely well attended by people who stammer, friends of those who stammer and people with no connection to stammering at all. Pertinent and important discussions were also held over an exciting, engaging Q&A session with the exhibitors plus Claire Norman, Founder of the Stammerers Through University Campaign (www.stuc-uk.org) and Tim Fell, Chair, British Stammering Association. Overwhelmingly, the most common phrase uttered to me during the night was ‘this is the start of something’ or similarly ‘you’re onto something’. Of which, I agreed with everyone who said this to me. This is the mission I’m on, to show the connection between stammering and art, through a number of mediums, to ultimately affect public opinion.

We are keen, as a collective, to develop a more ambitious exhibition, extending on the ideas raised in Judged Response, perhaps being more interactive and immersive. Watch this space.

 

Rory Sheridan

e) photo@rorysheridan.co.uk
w) www.rorysheridan.co.uk

Me, My Stammer and I

If someone had said to me few years ago that I would one day write a blog about something I am extremely conscious of, I would have laughed out loud! But here I am and this means a big step for me.

As long as I can remember, I have always stammered. I remember when I was about 5 years old and I was struggling to ask for a toy from a boy in a classroom and he said with a puzzled look, why do you talk like this? Up until then I never really noticed my repetition of words, struggling to get the words out etc.. I went home and asked my mum and she said it’s because you are still learning to speak and I believed her for a very long time!

Fast forward many years and I am still “learning to speak”! I was bullied in school for my stammering and my parents had to come for many meetings with the school to talk about it. Having any speech therapy was never an option as my parents believed it would all go away if I gave it time. My family helped me immensely by showing their support and patience, but I grew up thinking stammering was something to hide and not talk about to the world.

Despite being good academically I could never enjoy school, but my good grades and the thrive to achieve more kept me going, I always wanted to act and take part in debates and speeches, but settled for singing instead. This gave me a chance to experience the fluency I dreamt of. I used to envy people who could say what comes in their mind without even thinking about it!

waves Over the years my stammering was like waves with high and low points, but I became very critical and unforgiving of it. I would go over and over my speech and keep telling myself that I was not trying enough to speak properly. Thinking about it now makes me feel sad at how I would be divided into two with one side trying hard to communicate and the other just being negative! I hid my stammering from everyone and would cough, pause or whatever known hideaways to cover my stammer when talking to my friends and family, even at work. I managed to work as a telephone operator in a Call Centre for four years, but the constant efforts to cover up my stammering often made me extremely tired and out of breath.

It was only few years ago that I decided to try speech therapy. That decision did not come instantly as I had often thought of it, but only found enough drive to do something about it then.

The first call I made to find out about NHS speech therapy was very daunting in its own way. I was invited very quickly to the first appointment with a therapist in Chippenham, Wiltshire where I lived at that time. I went to the first session thinking there would be a magic cure waiting for me, but was also very apologetic to the therapist for wasting her time! After a few sessions, it was obvious that we needed to address my psychological approach to stammering before the physical side.

I attended a few sessions there and learned to be as kind, gentle and friendly to myself as I am to others! I know this sounds strange, but I learnt to look at me from a distance and appreciate myself. I started to take each conversation as it happened rather than thinking the whole day was a failure if I had stammered a few times during that day. Just as I was beginning to learn the positive ways to understand my stammer, we had to move from Wiltshire to West Sussex.

This threw me out of my comfort zone and I went back to my old self! It took me many more months to find out about speech therapy in the new area. I was told that there would only be one or two sessions to attend in my area before this service moved to Horsham, West Sussex. Desperate to do something about my attitude and state of mind, I took the chance. To be honest those two or three sessions probably did little to improve anything but they were reassuring enough to make me feel I was on the right track.

Finally, the speech therapist in Horsham helped me to achieve more and explore further. My anxiety was more about causing discomfort to others, but I learnt how that might not be the case and that others are not even bothered by it! We went through the relaxing techniques as well as some breathing exercises to ease the tension around my neck and upper torso, which helped a lot. I had days when the therapy or techniques were helpful, but there were also many days when I felt lost, confused and went back to my usual self-blaming thoughts!

One of my tasks set by my therapist was letting my employer know about my stammering. It happened at the right time as I was going for a job interview for a role I was extremely excited about. I went for the interview thinking there was no way I would get this job after I mentioned my stammering – I guess old habits die hard! But I was a little shocked and somehow disappointed to see that as I mentioned stammering and my therapy, they thanked me for letting them know and just moved on! I was hoping for gasps at least, but not even a slight twinge! That proved even more that my stammering was not as much of a trouble to others as it was for me.

I got that job and am still working there 5 years on. Not even once has anybody mentioned that my stammering has caused them any trouble or has come in the way of my job. My confidence grew with the years and I found a relief in letting people know about my stammering. This also gave me a starting point to focus on learning new skills and making new friends rather than worrying about where I stammered or got lost for words.

As one of the three speech therapists I had once said, “there is no such thing as perfect speech! It’s all about how you get your point across.”  I still have days or moments when I find myself lost for words or feel out of control, but then I take a moment and think that as long as I am able to make the other person understand my point, it’s ok.

I decided to stop taking therapy back in July this year because I felt I had gained enough skills in order for me to find my own way to be a “happy stammerer”. This ability to be ok with stammering is something I never thought I would achieve.

As much as I appreciate all the hard work my NHS speech therapists have put in to help me achieve this state of mind, I feel this was only possible when I decided to take control of my stammering rather than being controlled by it.

Anyone out there who is wondering whether therapy is for them… or perhaps have had therapy, but did not find it much help, I would like to say it’s more like trying a hat… you will have to try a few to find the one that fits! And once you find it, it will not solve all your problems but it will give you enough lift to face life with your head high!


Amna

 

 

The Day after International Stammering Awareness Day (ISAD)

kite-007Disclosing one’s stammer is easy they say… vital I say. In fact it is very much a technique I subscribe to, use frequently and encourage others to try. Imagine going into a stressful situation, an interview for example; walk through the door, friendly handshake, introductions gone well, half way through the first question, BLOCK. No sound. Embarrassed interviewers. Red faces, yours and theirs. You get the word out, will I block again? Will I stammer? Oh please get me out of here. It feels like a total failure, even though it probably isn’t. Your mind is going through all the usual worst case scenarios.

Now, try this for size. Walk through the door, friendly handshake, introductions gone well. “Before we start I would just like to say, I occasionally stammer. It’s not a problem for me and I trust it won’t be for you.” Now you are in control, you have wowed them, you have a USP. If you do block or stammer, it’s not a surprise, there will be no embarrassment, your stress levels are normal for an interview, and you’re likely to be more fluent as a result.

Early self disclosure works in many situations; with new people, those dreaded round the table introductions at meetings and even presentations and speeches. Whatever the occasion, it puts those of us who stammer in control of our speech, something we crave but may rarely experience.

So why is it then that I, someone who has lots of experience and success using this technique, finds it so difficult to talk about my stammer with my family, friends and colleagues? They already know I stammer, a fact I have never wanted or been able to hide, so self disclosure with them would be something slightly different. I know I would not suffer prejudice or ridicule, these are my friends after all, and rightly or wrongly I do crack a joke about stammering, so they know I am in a comfortable place with my speech.

Is it because I would have to speak more about feelings rather than the mechanics of speech? Is it because I would be revealing a more vulnerable side to my character they may not have seen, wish to see or I may wish to reveal? Is it because I don’t like talking about me me me? Am I, as usual, over-thinking the whole situation and should I just get on and talk to them about how stammering has and continues to shape me into the person I am?

These are questions I do not yet have answers to, but writing this has motivated me to move my self disclosure onto the next level, more personal, closer to home. I have always been sceptical of ‘awareness days’, there is a risk those not directly affected will be jolted for 1/365th of a year, then move on to the next cause. Don’t get me wrong, I fully support ISAD and the freedom it gives stammerers to speak out, often for the first time, and long may it continue. As with every British Stammering Association Conference I have attended, we must, must ride the wave of positivity and ‘can do’ generated and continue the work started on that day or weekend.

For me, that means talking to my friends, workmates and anyone else who knows me (sounds like I am on the radio!) about stammering, educating them and doing my bit towards a society that accepts dis-fluency and not expects fluency.

When I was a child I used to enjoy spending time on the beach flying kites; brightly coloured, bold symbols of fun and freedom, only just under control but high in the sky for all around to see. I will be flying the kite for stammering from now on, when will you be flying yours?

paul-roberts-photo

 

Paul Roberts

Positive stammering

positive-language-possible-ableWhen I say to people sometimes that I see my stammering as a positive in my life, they can find it a strange notion. Normally people can only envisage stammering as a negative concept.

My stammering is my natural pattern of speech, and having a stammer does not limit my speech nor hinder my conversations. Communication is so much more than just a speaking voice; it is your body language, facial expressions, your aura. Over the many years in my adult life I have found that being quite open about stammering brings many more conversations and opportunities to make my speech a positive attribute in both my professional and social life.

Quite recently I was thrown back into the position of having to update my CV and prepare for interviews as I had relocated from Northern Ireland and needed to secure a new job.

I have had many discussions with people about how to introduce stammering into my interview conversations. Also dilemmas such as do we tick the disability box? When is the correct time and place to disclose the fact you have a stammer? Can we ask a potential employer for special measures without setting ourselves at a disadvantage?

Our main issue is that in fact we are all different, each person’s stammer is unique in the same way we are all individuals. What affects one person may not affect another, and what seems impossible to one person may be a breeze to another.

For me, I decided that my stammer was something I could be proud of. The experiences that I have had over the last five years I would not have had if I was indeed a fluent person. And so I sat to write my stammer into my CV without actually using the words ‘I stammer’.

This became so much easier when I look at my stammer in a positive way. Showing that through my working relationships my stammer brings strong characteristics is really uplifting. I am able to say that by being very aware of my own speech makes me much more aware and sensitive to other people’s diversities. This makes us much more approachable if others can see that through our own difficulties we are open to accepting theirs.

Through my contacts within the British Stammering Association, going to their conferences, Open Days and getting involved in community groups I can show that I have a good network and that I am actively sourcing and meeting my own needs for back up and support.

For me, stammering has not disabled my life, but has added to it. It has given me more skills that I may not have finely tuned if I had indeed been a fluent person. It has also got me more involved with people from all sorts of places and made me push my own targets forward in terms of doing things for myself and independent travel.

And so, during my interviews I always managed to get my stammer mentioned during a question regarding strengths, talents or interests. Never in a negative way, never in an apologetic way. Mostly it was well received, employers were genuinely interested and it didn’t seem to put any off.

Socially, as I have got older I have cared less about my speech and the amount of fluency I have. My friends and family have become more comfortable with it as I have opened up more. I cannot believe I wasted so many of my younger years afraid to discuss things and be open with people when I was struggling.

My own breakthrough, so to speak, was whilst taking part in some research and being asked to visualise and describe my stammer as a ‘thing’. Something tangible you can see and touch.

For me, this was what turned my stammer into a positive. At that time, I saw my stammer as a weed, like a growing, choking ivy. It could be chopped down, but it was always there, ready to grown again, untamed and relentless. I did not like the thoughts of living with that all my days and so there and then I decided the weed needed to change, something needed to be in its place. And only I could change that. Only I could make that happen.

So I became much more open, stopped trying to ‘fit in’, met more and more people who stammered through the BSA and was soon able to realise that so many people have this dreadful negative feeling towards their stammering. I wanted to change this, I wanted to try to get people to believe in themselves, and that even with a stammer you can be whatever you want.

A_sunflower

For myself, that weed is now a flower, a sunflower, tall and proud, bright and majestic. I had support to get it there, I couldn’t have done it alone. But we must reach out, go out on a limb, take a chance. We will stumble along the way, but the rewards are so much greater than finding we are choked by our own silence.

So for me, stammering has opened doors, albeit you have to be ready to pull that door open wide and walk through it. When you do, you are faced with a whole new world, one where we can all stand like those tall, beautiful flowers and feel the sun on our face.

Mandy Taylor

 

 

 

Stammering: A Million Courageous Conversations

2015-04-14 19.59.05-1

“Iain, I’m going to be submitting a business case for promotion to manager in June.

I normally stammer on my name which then knocks all my confidence, especially when meeting someone for the first time. Also, my fear of stammering often stops me from contributing to larger groups.

These are going to be increasingly important for me if I’m to be promoted and to be a successful manager.

I’ve never discussed my stammer with anyone at work before but it would be great to talk. Can I book some time in with you soon?”

This email received in January 2015 was a simple but not easy way of inviting me into a conversation about stammering. It led to an authentic, at times emotional and certainly courageous conversation between two people who’d never met before.

For the email’s author, it was the start of a year in which they transformed their working relationship with their stammer and achieved huge personal growth. For myself, it was a privilege to have been invited to play a small part.

These days as Co-Chair of the Employers Stammering Network1 (“ESN”) I’m increasingly hearing about courageous conversations similar to the one I’ve shared above. Perhaps best described as a rising conversational tide across public and private sector organisations, it gives us encouragement that we’re on course to achieve our vision to “Change UK employment culture so everyone who stammers can achieve their full career potential.”

However, what does it really mean to have a courageous conversation in the workplace? 

After all, isn’t courage really about physical bravery such as a sporting success or military engagement? In many ways it is. Yet courage is also about less visible acts.

Poet and author David Whyte explores this interior dynamic as one where:

“To be courageous is not necessarily to go anywhere or do anything except make conscious those things we already feel deeply and then to live through the unending vulnerabilities of those consequences.” 2

In other words, a conversation in which we offer up our own vulnerability to others is courageous. When we talk for the first time about the pain, shame and stigma of having a stammer we are indeed revealing our vulnerability. The closer to the heart it is the more powerful and productive the conversation can be for everyone.

As Professor Brené Brown, an acknowledged leader in the field of vulnerability and courage, explains:

“Courage is a heart word. The root of the word is ‘cor’ – the Latin word for heart.

In one of its earliest forms, the word courage meant ‘To speak one’s mind by telling all one’s heart.’ ”3

In many ways the visible and invisible elements of courage mirror what happens to us when we stammer. In other words, what people see and what they can’t see. It is not the exterior physical manifestations of our dysfluent speech, facial contortions or defensive body language that can hurt us most, but the interior turmoil pounding away in our heads, stomachs and hearts.

Perhaps it’s no wonder then that employees with interiorised stammers, whose speech typically sounds fluent on the outside, find it so difficult to reveal their hidden dysfluency and feelings of vulnerability on the inside.

Yet Brené Brown reminds us that there is still true strength to be found here:

“Vulnerability sounds like truth and feels like courage.

Truth and courage aren’t always comfortable, but they’re never a weakness.”4

So in practice, how can we successfully apply this vulnerability, truth and courage in conversations at work?

Timing can be everything and in the working world these conversations often happen as we approach points of change, whether it be a new job, a promotion or the opportunity to take on an exciting new role, especially if it requires more public speaking.

When as a senior manager, I was asked to join and lead our audit training team, it was totally unexpected as I’d always avoided instructing on any training programmes! After agonising over the decision, I accepted the role. Had I been more courageous, it could have been the catalyst for a conversation about my stammer. However, the dialogue with my boss amounted merely to his clipped comment that I needed to develop my facilitation and presentation skills, countered by my grudging acknowledgement that he might just possibly be right! It was another two years before we had that courageous conversation about my stammer as he mentored me towards becoming a partner in our firm.

There is no ‘preferred way’ to hold a courageous conversation and there’s an array of courses, multi-step programmes, articles and poetry out there. They range from “straight-talking, take no prisoners” to the “let the spirit take you wherever it will” approaches – it’s whatever works best for you.

Choosing the right conversational partner is choosing the right conversation. Do you want someone who’s going to be open, to whom you can listen and will perhaps be a little courageous themselves? Or someone more focused on listening to you and on being a friendly, receptive ear. Again, there’s no right answer. My own mentor was occasionally open, sometimes uncomfortably challenging and always supportive.

As helpful content and support for these conversations, the ESN website www.stammering.org/esn will soon include a series of case studies featuring employees talking openly about the relationship between their stammer and their work. Whether we stammer or not, much better though to use our own stories, the ones that only we can wholly tell, giving ourselves an open canvas to engage in a truly courageous way.

My invitation to you.

With a UK labour force of over 30 million people5, it’s a long haul journey to achieve the cultural change the ESN is aiming for. However, with over 300,000 UK adults who stammer, our families, friends, therapists and allies in both predictable and surprising places, our home team could very well be a million people strong.

That’s potentially a Million Courageous Conversations!

So my new year invitation to you is to become one of the million people forming our home team and to have at least one Courageous Conversation about stammering this year – a conversation through which, by being a little bit vulnerable, you’ll be amazed by what a difference you can make.

Iain Wilkie

Iain_Wilkie#9509_small

 

Iain Wilkie is a Senior Partner at EY and the Co-Chairman of the Employers Stammering Network (“ESN”).

All views and opinions expressed in this article are entirely his own.

 

 

 

  1. The Employers Stammering Network is operated by the British Stammering Association. For further information please email either Helen Carpenter at hc@stammering.org or Norbert Lieckfeldt at nl@stammering.org.
  1. David Whyte, “Consolations. The Solace, Nourishment and Underlying Meaning of Everyday Words”, Many Rivers Press, 2014
  1. Brené Brown, “I Thought it was Just Me: Women Reclaiming Power and Courage in a Culture of Shame”, 2007, Gotham
  1. Brené Brown, “Daring Greatly: How the Courage to be Vulnerable Transforms the Way we Live, Love, Parent and Lead”, 2012, Gotham
  1. Office National Statistics, www.ons.gov.uk

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Supervision at the fork in the road

image1We all start out with dreams and ideas about how our careers will go. It’s hard to foresee when, where or why the forks in the road will come, but it is almost certain that they will. This blog post explores two key ways in which supervision helped me to negotiate a fork in the path, keep hold of my dreams and step into independent practice.

Seventeen years ago, I embarked on a career in Speech and Language Therapy, with a dream to become a neuro rehab therapist. In the early stages of my career I was fortunate to have some great supervisors (also my managers), who nurtured my enthusiasm for neuro rehab.

In 2008, I took a senior post in a small department without access to clinical supervision within the organisation. I was holding a complex caseload, but for the first time also dealing with wider departmental and organisational issues. I felt the need for external supervision to develop my practice and take care of myself as I entered a more challenging stage of my career.

My line manager continued to oversee my work in post, particularly supporting my CPD, and helping me develop the SLT department. The separation of my clinical supervision to another time and place enabled me to attend to the needs of my clients, as well as my own needs, within this increasingly challenging work context. Through external clinical supervision, I had the freedom to reflect on the needs of my clients more deeply and my own journey more broadly.

Hawkins and Shohet (2007) discuss self-care as an important aspect of clinical supervision. Drawing an analogy between the ‘good enough helping professional ‘ and Donald Winnacott’s concept of the ‘good enough mother’. The ‘good enough mother’ may struggle to cope with the rigours of motherhood without the help and support of another adult, just as the helping professional may struggle to cope without the support of a supervisor. At this point in my career, I was faced daily with the devastating reality of people’s lives following brain injury. I was starting to develop quite strong ideas about addressing these needs with clients but also felt frustrated by the difficulties of achieving gains for my clients. I could easily have been worn down by these frustrations, but with wise and meaningful supervision, these difficult experiences ‘….. were survived, reflected upon and learnt from’ (Hawkins and Shohet, 2007). Through supervision, I became much more conscious of my concern to address my client’s ability to participate in their chosen life roles and started to think about how I could facilitate this for them.

It was at this time that my own personal circumstances changed. With a young family I was keen to be as present at home as much as possible without completely losing connection with my profession. I started to explore how to manage this change in my life and find a way to continue working within my chosen specialism.

Cathy and Sam have written about the changing role of supervision which ‘….. has now extended to one that supports and facilitates emotional resilience, opens up possibilities where there seem to be very few and fosters an individual’s personal/ professional resources to manage change’ (Bulletin, February 2013).

With this changing picture, refined by my professional interest and constrained by my personal circumstances, my supervisor helped me to consider diverse options as I stood at this fork in the road. I don’t remember who initiated the idea of independent practice, but I know that this path seemed daunting, much less travelled and insecure. I didn’t know how to begin walking away from the security of paid employment.

The supervisory relationship was a place of safety that allowed me to: test out ideas, evaluate the pros and cons of working independently, make plans and connections, review early steps and ask silly questions. I saw my first independent client in 2009, nearly six years ago. The transition to independent practice has been necessarily slow as I have been at home with my family, but this has brought with it opportunity to reflect on each small step in supervision and build slowly in confidence. With my supervisor’s support this process has been much smoother and more satisfying than it might have been as early ideas have come to fruition.

Work is not how I envisaged it seventeen years ago, but it does really work for me in the context of my life now. However, I could so easily have missed this path if I had not been able to access great supervision at the fork in the road.

Mary Ganpatsingh
www.communicationchanges.co.uk
@Comm_Changes

References
Supervision in the Helping Professions, 3rd edition (2007), Hawkins, P. and Shohet, R.
Supporting robust supervision practice, Sparkes, C. and Simpson, S. (February, 2013) Bulletin

Putting the Relationship in Supervision

images-9Supervision. The word invokes many different thoughts for me. The many supervisors I have had, and the many people I have supervised. And the formality of the word. I got a bit stuck when trying to move past this, so I read through multiple blog posts about having one’s communication shaped, ‘therapyed’ or embraced. These posts brought to my mind the way that we as Speech and Language Therapists (SLTs) advocate for all of this communication, in whatever form is successful or possible for each individual, yet when it comes to shaping my own supervision, the same rules just don’t apply. I turn up to therapy sessions with clients. But at times, have found it hard to access my own unique communication space (which will help in those therapy sessions I turn up to), why is that? We want our accountants to be au fait with current tax law, our mechanics to put the right parts in our car, yet for some reason there are times when we turn up to sessions not having invested in our knowledge space, which is essential to providing therapy. Why do we not seek it out if we don’t have what we need or want?

Reasons I have not accessed supervision include that I have worked outside of the NHS and just haven’t got round to getting any, I have had managers who haven’t seen its benefits (I have also had managers who have ‘over-supervised’!), and I have had supervisors where their style of supervision is just not my cup of tea. There have also been times when I’ve not been linked into a neat network of Speech and Language Therapists. At times I have craved this ‘simple’ structure of one senior SLT supervises me, and then I supervise an SLT below me. But currently that isn’t an option available to me. I am an overseas trained SLT, who has spent some time as a permanent staff member in the NHS, a wee stint working privately and am currently working as a locum in the NHS. My life is soon changing as I am looking to return home.

Right now, I am lucky, especially as a locum. I have regular supervision. I also give regular supervision. I have a clinical team leader (CTL) who is not an SLT, but who always has an open ear, and filing cabinet full of ideas, especially around complex issues such as safeguarding and setting up a service. But, we have both wondered on occasion, if she was an SLT, would we come up with the answer to a curly clinical quandary more quickly?

I also have, until recently, received private supervision from an SLT. On writing this I reflected about what brought me to private supervision, and it struck me that I was looking for that ‘simple’ hierarchical structure that I mentioned above. However, what came out was something different. I had the freedom to discuss anything as my supervisor was able to look at my thoughts and issues through a different lens, removed from the need to be managerial. Someone who was intrigued to help me find the balance in relationships, who did not have a stake in the outcome and, therefore, was able to challenge me in order to help me create boundaries within my work. In her removed position, she was able to help me understand what areas to drive forward clinically. However, this separation from my day-to-day work existence, meant at times I would need to go back to my CTL to float the ideas discussed.

It took me a while to access private clinical supervision. I would often go to my sessions with the anxiety that one has when the ‘to do’ list takes up three sides of paper. But when I would leave it was like a weight had been lifted off my shoulders – the exact same feeling that I have when I meet with my CTL. Although both of my supervisors are interested in serving the same purpose – making sure I don’t burn out – they come at it from differing perspectives.

The biggest thing I will be taking from my recent supervision experience is that it is all about relationships. The relationship with the supervisor and myself, but mostly the content of discussion is how I am relating to others. I have sated my need for the neat little SLT supervision structure. It is not a necessity to be supervised by your own discipline or receive clinical support from your own workplace. A perfectly excellent job can be achieved outside of these arrangements, as long as your supervisor knows what kinds of questions to ask, and is humble enough to say “Hmmm, is this what that looks like? If not, tell me more…” I can feel myself now asking similar-structured questions to the Occupational Therapists and Physiotherapists, who ask me how they should manage a particular situation. I pride myself on my ability to relate to my colleagues, clients and wider community as an SLT, but I need to leave my guilt at the supervision door because if I am not showing up to my own unique communication space then the relationships in my work just won’t work.

Anna Childs (nee Wivell)

Totally OK to Stammer at Work (2/2)

Iain smile photoMartyn: “Do you ever read poetry?”

Me : “No. Of course not.”

Martyn: “You might try it sometime. David Whyte1, something like that.”

It had been just a short conversation but, as usual, his intuition was spot on.

I’d been discussing with Martyn Brown, my Executive Coach at Ashridge2, my progress towards becoming more of myself at work, including being more open about my stammer.

But poetry, that was a weird one. I was curious.

Fast forward 5 years and here I am gratefully responding to an invitation from intandem to write about how poetry has helped me to forge a much healthier relationship with my stammer. In last month’s blog post I wrote how the Employers Stammering Network3 is aiming to make it “Totally OK to stammer at work”, whereas this article is shaped more towards my own personal journey.

Over recent years, I’ve used my experience of many years in business to confront a series of questions that I wish I’d known the answers to at the start of my career.

And nowadays, I wonder what advice I’d offer to my younger self if he asked me these questions – and, to help his imagination, what lines of poetry might I even share with him? Here’s how our Q&A session might sound:

Q 1 How much will my stammer restrict my career?

A 1: It may surprise you, because you feel so ashamed when sometimes you can’t even say your own name, but the answer rests almost entirely within your own control. Your stammer can dominate your career or it can be almost completely irrelevant. Truly!

For me the big realisation was that it was within my gift to choose how I saw myself with a stammer – either as someone who’s shame and self-oppression for having a stammer would continue all my life – or as someone who could accept over time that it’s “totally OK for me to stammer – even at work”.

That’s so easy to write, yet it took me years to get here. And one of the steps helping along the way was learning that by living more choice-fully in relation to my stammer, I could influence for better or worse the outcomes for my own career. This point about consciously making difficult choices lies at the heart of the closing lines of Robert Frost’s ‘The Road Not Taken’:

 

THE ROAD NOT TAKEN (Extract)4

Robert Frost

 

“I shall be telling this with a sigh

Somewhere ages and ages hence:

Two roads diverged in a wood, and I –

I took the one less travelled by,

And that has made all the difference.”

 

Q 2 : How will I ever become more comfortable with speaking in public?

A 2: For people who stammer, speaking in public is often a step too far – and we avoid it at all costs.

Throughout my career, my relationship with speaking up has been erratic to say the least! My progress has come from taking calculated risks, some successful and others not – but doing it in my own way for better or worse. Stubborn, you might call it. I prefer to call it courageous!

It’s not been easy at all – but it’s definitely been worth it.

This sometimes unbearably difficult path of making changes in mid-life is a core theme of some of David Whyte’s work, and it’s almost as if ‘Start Close In’ was written with the courageous step of speaking up in public for the first time in mind .

 

START CLOSE IN (Extract)5

David Whyte

 

“Start Close in

Don’t take the second step

or the third

start with the first

thing,

close in,

the step

you don’t want to take.

 

Start with

the ground

you know,

the pale ground

beneath your feet

your own

way of starting

the conversation.”

 

Q3: How can I cope when I’m having a bad day with my stammer?

A 3: Some days are just difficult stammering days. You’re tired, nervous or slightly out of sorts – that’s life.

And yes, there’s still pressure not to stammer at work and, even though I’ve learnt to rise above it, it can still feel bruising when it’s been a tough stammering day.

Learning self-acceptance, resilience and perspective has been crucial to coping with those days. Like Derek Walcott’s raw realisation in “Love after Love”, it’s meant looking in the mirror and accepting myself. Accepting that my stammer has always been part of me – and not to try to make it a stranger.

 

LOVE AFTER LOVE (Extract)6

Derek Walcott

 

The time will come

when, with elation,

you will greet yourself arriving

at your own door, in your own mirror,

and each will smile at the other’s welcome,

and say, sit here. Eat.

You will love again the stranger who was yourself.”

 

Q4: Where can I find advice, support and kindred spirits?

A4: Nowadays there is so much support and friendship out here for people who stammer.

Firstly, I’d point towards the British Stammering Association7 (“BSA”) the national charity for people in the UK who stammer.

And secondly to our Employers Stammering Network, an arm of the BSA, where our goal is simply to make it “Totally OK to Stammer at Work”. Don’t worry, we never discuss poetry, that’s just me!

Both the BSA and ESN offer a spirit of welcome – from people who stammer – that’s warm and genuine. Just visit the BSA Closed Facebook group to get a feel for it.

Which brings me to my final poem, from David Whyte’s recent collection ‘Pilgrim’, which develops the theme of arriving amongst strangers who themselves have walked a similar, searching journey.

 

CAMINO (Extract)8

David Whyte

 

“…….other people

seemed to know you even before you gave up

being a shadow on the road and came into the light,

even before you sat down with them,

broke bread and drank wine,

wiped the wind-tears from your eyes:

pilgrim they called you again. Pilgrim.”

 

Before ending, I have an invitation for you.

Please start a conversation with someone about how it’s “Totally OK to Stammer at Work”. You might choose a friend, a colleague, perhaps your boss.

Every conversation is an important step forward in improving workplace culture towards stammering – and if you’re stuck for how to start, you will surely find inspiration in the opening lines of ‘Start Close In’ above…….

I’m keen to hear how you get on!

poetry wordle

Iain Wilkie

Iain Wilkie is a Senior Partner at EY and the Co-Chairman of the Employers Stammering Network (“ESN”). All views and opinions expressed in this article are entirely his own.

 

References

1. David Whyte – Poet, author, lecturer. www.davidwhyte.com

2. Martyn Brown – Business Director, Organisational and Executive Development, Ashridge Business School, and Ashridge Programme Leader for EY.

3. Employers Stammering Network is operated by the British Stammering Association (see 6 below). For further information contact please email either iwilkie@uk.ey.com or Norbert Lieckfeldt at esn@stammering.org or mail@esn.org.uk

4. “The poetry of Robert Frost”, ed Edward Connery Lathem (Jonathan Cape 1967), Random House Ltd, 20 Vauxhall Bridge Road, London SW1V 2SA. “Staying Alive”, edited by Neil Astley, 2002, Bloodaxe Books Ltd, Highgreen, Torset, Northumberland, NE48 1RP.

5. David Whyte, “River Flow”, New & Selected poems 1984-2007. Many Rivers Press, P O Box 868, Langley, WA 98260, USA. www.davidwhyte.com © David Whyte.

6. Roger Housden 2003 “Ten poems to change your life”, Hodder & Stoughton, 338 Euston Road, London NW1 3BH, UK. Farrar, Straws and Giroux LLC, Collected Poems of Derek Walcott, 1996. © Derek Walcott.

7. British Stammering Association, 15 Old Ford Road, London E2 9PJ. For information contact www.stammering.org or 020 -8983 1003 or nl@stammering.org.

8. “Pilgrim – poems by David Whyte, 2012”. Many Rivers Press, P O Box 868, Langley, WA 98260, USA. www.davidwhyte.com. © David Whyte 2012.

Totally OK to Stammer at Work (1/2)

Iain smile photo “Here comes Iain WWWWilkie” was the greeting from a fluent-speaking former colleague at a reunion party in a London pub last week.

Ten years ago his words would’ve put me firmly on the back foot, but these days I grab such playground comments as an opportunity to talk about how enlightened employers are now viewing stammering as an issue to be recognised and supported. So I launched straight in and explained how two years ago the formation of The Employers Stammering Network (“ESN”) was a giant leap forward in our aim to make it “Totally OK to stammer at work”. As we chatted, my former colleague initially looked awkward but he then started listening attentively and, when I was leaving, he suggested we meet again for lunch sometime soon.

So what can we learn from this unexpected conversation about stammering in the workplace?

Firstly, the stigma of having a stammer at work is still perpetuated by many good people across many fine organisations. This is largely under-pinned by ignorance rather than malice.

Secondly, most people, including many who stammer, have never had an informed conversation about stammering in their lives. There is, as Norbert Lieckfeldt my Co-Chairman at the ESN says, “a conspiracy of silence around stammering”. Yet, once engaged in a conversation, people are often eager to learn and happy to become supporters.

Thirdly, the ESN is proving attractive to leading private and public sector employers who’ve never thought before about stammering. They’re keen to ensure their employees are not held back from reaching their full potential just because of their dysfluency.

So you might ask, what is the purpose of the ESN and how is it going after its first two years?

Put simply, our purpose is to create an employment culture in the UK where it’s “Totally OK to stammer at work”. More officially it’s “To help employers in supporting the development of their people who stammer, thereby enabling employees to achieve their full career potential, for the benefit of both the individual and the employer”. Like most purpose statements, it’s a bit of a mouthful!

Since launching with the energetic support of the Rt Hon Ed Balls in May 2013, we now have 13 [1] major organisations as members, collectively employing over 400,000 people in the UK alone. Our growth saw us recognised as one of the UK’s “Most Awesome Networks” in February 2015 by Inclusive Networks [2] and we have two more major employers lining up to join. However, it’s the support that we feel all around us that truly has Norbert, myself and many others believing that we’re on our way to achieving our transformational aim to make it “Totally OK to stammer at work”.

Most encouragingly of all, there are many employees who’ve already benefitted from their employer being an ESN member. An ESN colleague at a leading bank stepped into a much better role after gaining the confidence to ‘go for’ the job he really wanted. Another ESN colleague decided to talk openly about his stammer in front of a promotion panel in a way he’d never have done a year earlier – and got the job! And a senior manager with a pronounced stammer at my own firm told me “You changed my life!” It doesn’t get any more transformational or emotional than that!

One of the biggest challenges for the ESN is helping our members to succeed in getting stammering talked about in their own organisations. This isn’t about adding it to a wish-list in a strategy paper, but about how to change long-embedded cultural attitudes towards stammering, like those I encountered in the pub last week. It requires the public commitment of the leadership, the identification of role-models and courageous conversations that ask for and explain how to achieve that change. As Lou Gerstner, former Chairman of IBM said, “Culture isn’t one aspect of the game – it is the game” [3].

Our experience with the ESN is that it’s a tough, untrodden path that we’ve started to take; a sentiment that’s expressed beautifully in this translation from Antonio Machado’s poem Cantares:

”Pathmaker there is no path
You make the path by walking
By walking you make the path”

After all, we’re trying to get organisations to embrace something that most of us, dysfluent or not, have spent much of our lives feeling uncomfortable even talking about. However, it’s a fresh willingness to enter into courageous and vulnerable conversations that’s at the heart of the ESN’s opportunity – and in next month’s blog I’ll share insights into my own journey from a shy, underperforming employee into a more confident and fully engaged partner at EY.

In the ESN, we’re learning to be patient, to take the knock-downs and to overcome our doubts. Yet in just two years since launching, with the changes that we’re increasingly seeing in employees who stammer and with ever-expanding awareness of stammering amongst employers, it’s already become “OK to Stammer” in some parts of the UK workplace. Now that really is a path worth walking.

Iain Wilkie

Iain Wilkie is a Senior Partner at EY and the Co-Chairman of the Employers Stammering Network   (“ESN”). All views and opinions expressed in this article are entirely his own.

If you or your employer would like information about the ESN, please email either iwilkie@uk.ey.com or Norbert Lieckfeldt at esn@stammering.org or mail@esn.org.uk

 

[1] Current ESN members: A4E, BrightHouse, CitiGroup, Defence College for Health Education & Training, DHL, EY, First Group, Lloyds Banking Group, Prudential, RBS, Santander, Shell, & Warrington Borough Council.

[2] Inclusive Networks www.inclusivenetworks.co.uk

[3] Louis V Gerstner Jr, “Who says Elephants Can’t Dance?”, Harper Collins

 

 

 

International Stammering Awareness Day 2014: My Shout!

isad2014logo

Raising public awareness is rife these days. There seem to be colourful wrist bands and ribbons for almost every health and social issue you can think of, and stammering is no exception. Today, on International Stammering Awareness Day, you can mark the occasion by sporting a unique sea-green version. It may be a small gesture, but it’s a positive step in the right direction:

We need more awareness around stammering!

isad_wristband250

This is true for all people who stammer, but it feels especially relevant for people who have interiorised stammers, like me. I like to think of interiorised stammering as the invisible twin of overt stammering. People with interiorised stammers are able to maintain a near-perfect fluent façade by skirting around difficult sounds and words, and avoiding certain social situations altogether. But while they may appear to speak ‘normally’, this comes at a huge mental and emotional cost. Internally, they are struggling with all the thoughts and emotions that come with having a stammer. Anxiety, fear, frustration, shame, helplessness, loneliness – these are just a handful of those emotions. And they are underpinned by a flood of negative thoughts, such as ‘People won’t accept me if they find out that I stammer’, ‘I need to be fluent to do my job well’, and ‘Stammering means that I’ve failed’.

It’s difficult for people to understand that someone can have a stammer without actually stammering. I remember confiding in an old friend many years ago that I stammer. Her response was both rewarding and devastating: “But you speak perfectly fluently.” I was elated to hear that I had successfully pulled off normal speech, but at the same time it felt very lonely to know that this meant I would receive none of the support and understanding I really needed.

I believe this lack of awareness of interiorised stammering comes in part from an overly simple portrayal of stammering in the media. The King’s Speech – a film that shone a powerful light on stammering – profiles the struggles of someone with an overt stammer. And more recently, Musharaf, from the TV programme, Educating Yorkshire, captured the nation’s attention as a boy with a severe stammer fighting to be heard in a fluent world. While difficulty with speech is a hallmark of all types of stammering, interiorised stammering challenges the perception that this difficulty is immediately apparent. It shows that stammering is actually a very varied condition, and that there is so much more to having a stammer than just talking differently.

International Stammering Awareness Day is a wonderful opportunity for us to raise awareness of these, and other, aspects of stammering. Whether it’s talking about our experiences with others, wearing a wristband or a ribbon, running a marathon, or writing a blog post (!), every effort to improve the public insight into stammering will lead to a better understanding of this condition. I look forward to the day when I can tell someone that I stammer and they nod unquestioningly.

Cara