People are less likely to recommend someone who stutters if they believe the job requires strong communication skills

Study reveals communication skill stereotypes limit career opportunities for people who stutter.
The crucial aspect is to convey your thoughts and ideas clearly. Newswise
The crucial aspect is to convey your thoughts and ideas clearly. Newswise

People are less likely to recommend someone who stutters for a job if they believe the job requires strong communication skills, according to research from Binghamton University, State University of New York. 

The study’s lead author, Cody Dew, an assistant professor of speech and language pathology at Decker College of Nursing and Health Sciences at Binghamton, said this perception limits career opportunities for people who stutter, resulting in underemployment, workplace discrimination and lower income. Dew is the lead clinician in the Stuttering Clinic at Binghamton University’s Speech and Hearing Clinic, where he works with Rodney Gabel, professor and founding director of Decker’s Division of Speech and Language Pathology (SLP).

Dew and Gabel gathered data from 192 Binghamton faculty, staff and students who completed an electronic survey, rating the communication skills required to be successful in 43 careers. The study explored how perceived communication skills needed for careers influence the advice given to PWS to pursue them.

To accomplish this, the study focused on two questions:

  • What is the relationship between perceived communication skills needed to succeed in specific careers and the degree to which those careers are advisable for PWS?

  • Does the advice provided to a PWS differ between individuals who regularly provide career advice and those who don’t?

The results showed that PWS were advised against pursuing work that is frequently seen to involve communication in stressful situations, such as judge, attorney, parole officer and physician, as it was inferred stuttering would negatively interfere with job performance, the safety of self or others, or the ability to communicate effectively. Instead, careers with fewer communication demands, such as film editor, computer programmer, statistician and engineer, were recommended for PWS.

The study’s results provide further evidence that the perception of poor communication skills due to stuttering can result in role entrapment, where PWS are discouraged from pursuing specific careers due to how others perceive them. The study also indicated no difference in the advice given to the people who stutter by those who regularly provide career advice and those who don’t.

“Most people don’t understand stuttering well regardless of their profession,” Dew explained.

The study also investigated whether the stereotypes held even if the individual was familiar with someone who stutters, such as a sibling, parent, significant other or colleague. However, Dew and Gabel found that regardless of the strength of the relationship with someone who stutters, the data showed the same amount of stereotyping.

“The issue boils down to ableism,” Dew said. “To be successful, does a person who stutters need to be like everybody else … so not stuttering? That is impossible, and it’s also not what is best for people who stutter.”

Further, Dew stressed that it’s essential to recognize that stuttering doesn’t result in poor communication skills. It’s just a different way of communicating.

“The most important thing is to effectively communicate your message and be understood, regardless of the amount of stuttering involved,” he said. “Whether you stutter frequently, occasionally or not at all, the crucial aspect is to convey your thoughts and ideas clearly.”

Most people don’t understand stuttering well regardless of their profession. Pixabay
Most people don’t understand stuttering well regardless of their profession. Pixabay

Strategies for success

This study is incorporated in a dissertation centered around vocational stereotypes, stigma and discrimination that Dew is completing as he pursues his doctoral degree. His dissertation aims to develop evidence-based approaches that PWS can use to combat these negative preconceptions. Papers two and three focus on creating a toolbox of strategies to help PWS navigate the workforce more effectively.

“While we have spent a significant amount of time defining and demonstrating the existence of these stereotypes, we haven’t put as much effort into figuring out how to eliminate them or what tools we can provide to people who stutter to prove them wrong,” Dew said.

The research suggests that openness and self-disclosure play significant roles in countering job-related stereotypes and stigmas, so it’s essential to educate PWS on how to demonstrate their communication skills effectively to prove existing stereotypes wrong.

“We know that things like humor and self-disclosure — telling people ‘I stutter’ and then educating them about what that means — can change a person’s perspective,” he said. “Research shows that we can shift a person’s perspective from: ‘Oh, this person is stuttering because they are very anxious and not a good talker’ to ‘Oh, this person stutters, and that’s just the way they talk.’”

The study also indicated that PWS with high self-confidence and self-worth (self-efficacy) can perform tasks and achieve goals without feeling held back by their stuttering, leading to a better quality of life.

Dew has seen how effective high self-efficacy is, recalling a first-year college student who stuttered and needed a job but felt limited in his options. He didn’t believe he could work anywhere he might be required to answer a phone or call out people’s names.

“He felt that his stuttering disqualified him from getting jobs; he was taking himself out of the running before he even tried,” Dew said.

In contrast, another person who stuttered considered joining the military but wondered if he could do it. Would he let people down if he had to talk on the radio in combat? Would he be in the way? Ultimately, he followed his dream and became an officer. 

“He didn’t let it stop him,” Dew said. “He didn’t let his stuttering get in the way.” Newswise

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