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I have had a stutter for my whole life and after a few minutes most people can easily recognise it. I have always worked in Infrastructure doing mostly Engineering/Security and Development.

I have been told by my senior management that they want to promote me and lead a team of 10 people. I am really concerned around this, since it is difficult as a stutterer to deal with people at the best of times - and now I would have a whole team of people! My manager said not to worry about it and if anyone has problems, just advise him and HR. (This is not school, I don't need to advise anyone, if I am honest... and I'm not sure what anyone can do anyway.)

I have no problem with speaking to people one on one; I seem to be fine when speaking to them. However, in a massive team meeting and challenging multiple people - it’s difficult to get my point across.

However, it’s not only the team that I am worried about; it’s the other management that I would have to deal with. It’s the kind of people that seem to have a lot of confidence in speaking and thus taking over meetings and running all over people - I have found a way of getting my point across and without all the waffling that a lot of people seem to do on calls... so I get straight to the point and I think that’s what others have seen and they like that in me.

I feel as though I should decline the "promotion" and stick to what I am doing (and which I like), however, I will never truly know if I am good at management without ever taking it on (although it may end up causing me a lot of sleepless nights with anxiety).

What's a good way to come to a decision regarding this promotion?

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    Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat.
    – Kilisi
    Jul 16, 2021 at 4:43

12 Answers 12

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The people who want to promote you know that you stutter. You have discussed this with them and they, who have promoted many people to management in the past, feel it is not an issue. As you say, it has advantages in that you get straight to the point, and people like this.

I would say that the actual speaking aloud part of being a manager is only a small fraction of the work, and the one-on-one speaking is far more important than the grandstanding in meetings. This is something you will discover for yourself if you accept the promotion.

Should the day come when a meeting makes a decision that is very bad for your team, because you weren't able to quickly say a particular magic sentence that would have prevented it, you will be able to go to your boss, in person or with an email, and say something to the effect of "because J Smith kept interrupting me and wouldn't be patient enough to listen, I did not succeed in explaining A, B, and C which clearly indicate that we should X rather than Y as the meeting decided. Please help me to get this decision reconsidered." And, if it's important enough, that will happen. And furthermore, J Smith will be talked to about wasting the company's time by steamrollering to a wrong decision.

You may feel personal stress being called on to speak regularly when speaking is hard for you. I can't tell you whether it's worth that personal stress to have a higher paying and higher ranking job. But I can tell you that your difficulty speaking aloud should not hurt your team or company, and that you could be a great manager even if you were completely unable to speak at all. Your manager seems to know that and I recommend you trust them on that front.

(Others have suggested coaching or speech therapy to reduce your worry level about the speaking, and that's a fine suggestion, but please don't assume you must reduce or eliminate your stutter to be a good manager. You don't have to. I have worked for and with stutterers and it is way less of an issue than being selfish, bigoted, or overly cynical, to choose three random adjectives that might describe a person.)

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    +1 Those that are trying to get the author to work on not stuttering are missing the point. Being able to speak without a stutter is not a requirement for managing people. Having a stutter may make some aspects a little more challenging, but I’m certain that many people would rather have a good manager that stutters than a mediocre manager with the gift of gab.
    – ColleenV
    Jul 14, 2021 at 16:31
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    The gift of gab does almost nothing in a managerial role. He's not trying to impress his reports. People will see through the BS soon enough.
    – Nelson
    Jul 15, 2021 at 1:29
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    Some of the best managers I have had, they actually talked very little in standups and other meetings :) You can always assign others to talk about specific things... Jul 15, 2021 at 8:43
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    I would also add to this that the OP could simply ask within the new contract that a period of time be set for the OP to try the position and if it doesn‘t work out (too much stress) that the old position be given back without repercussions. Jul 15, 2021 at 10:51
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    @LaurentS. It's exactly the opposite, actually. There's a pretty well-known pattern where people who try to conceal their stutter end up struggling with lack of confidence/anxiety/etc., and often the best thing for their mental health is to just let themselves openly stutter. (Read up on covert stuttering if you want to know more.) Speech therapy also has a nasty tendency to focus on fluency rather than emotional health. This makes advice telling stutterers to try not to stutter actively dangerous. Source: I also stutter (and +1 this whole answer.)
    – Astrid
    Jul 17, 2021 at 13:31
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Strictly speaking, the stutter itself isn't the problem here. The problem is that speaking to groups is not a strength of yours. I'll wager that most first-time managers have that problem to some degree, whether it's caused by a stutter, a thick accent, having to speak an unfamiliar language, a naturally soft voice, or just a lack of confidence. Thankfully, it's also the sort of skill that improves with time and practice. Some people find groups like Toastmasters helpful, where you can practice speaking to groups of various sizes in a zero-risk, zero-judgement environment that's focused on helping each other improve.

It's rather natural for first-time managers to have a bit of imposter syndrome and think that they don't have what it takes to do the job. That's why it's important to take your self-assessment of your skills with a grain of salt and listen to what those around you think. Your senior management thinks highly enough of you to recommend you for the position. They wouldn't do that if they thought you couldn't do it. Removing and replacing a bad manager is an expensive and time-consuming process (and leaving one in place is often even worse), so they're not going to take a lot of risks here. They obviously think your pros outweigh your cons and are willing to make a serious investment of company resources to have you in that position. New positions are always bumpy at first, but as you grow more accustomed to the role I think you'll find the stutter being less and less of an issue.

However, it’s not only the team that I am worried about; it’s the other management that I have to deal with. It’s the kind of people that seem to have a lot of confidence in speaking and thus taking over meetings and running all over people

These sorts of people are experts at bulldozing conversations and are a problem for almost everybody. You'd still have this problem without the stutter. Dealing with them is a completely separate topic.

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  • This is a great point: "The problem is that speaking to groups is not a strength of yours. I'll wager that most first-time managers have that problem to some degree,"
    – Ryan
    Jul 16, 2021 at 1:59
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As somebody who allowed themselves to be held back by their stutter for years, I would wholeheartedly advise you to go for it.

I had quite a bad stutter from childhood, well into my thirties. It is more under control now, but it is always able to still show itself when I am anxious.

I wasted my time at university, partially because I could not face going in to tutorials, but mainly because I could not picture myself working in that field (law) and so pretty much gave up.

I eventually moved into software and was very quickly earmarked for team leadership and then management roles.

Having forced myself to take those roles, I found that I could operate very effectively, even with my stutter, with colleagues and customers and anybody else. As time went on, my confidence grew and the stutter also reduced in severity.

Looking back now on my own experience, and also working with others with speech impediments, I can see that the fear of how others would perceive me was greatly exaggerated in my mind.

Of course, this is nothing new. Most people obsess about what others will think of them, and a stutter just adds another thing to be self conscious of.

I don't say that lightly, because I completely understand the feeling of powerlessness that can come from feeling that you cannot communicate.

But, I could communicate. It was just more awkward and uncomfortable, and I really wish that I had pushed myself a bit more earlier in my life and learnt these things sooner.

For that reason, I would strongly encourage you to think about pushing past the fear.

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This may be a good opportunity for a therapist or a coach. I fully understand your anxiety but this looks like a good opportunity at a good company and it would be a shame to not give it a shot.

Some suggestions

  1. A good coach, mentor or therapist can help you work through potential scenarios. They can help identify what situations may be a challenge and than talk through how you can effectively manage them and even mock them up and practice them together.
  2. Set realistic goals. Start with making sure you are comfortable with 1:1 meetings. Then work your way up to small team meetings to large meetings. Create a back up plan for meetings that you can't effectively handle yet. Could be e-mail follow up, small meeting with key stakeholders, amendment to the notes, private Slack channels, etc.
  3. Do regular check ins with your manager and your direct reports. Make sure they are aware of the issue and give you constructive feedback or suggestions. Most people will be very willing to help and support you!

Give it a shot and see how it goes. This could be a wonderful growth opportunity even help you working through your problem. If it doesn't work, you can still step back into the rank. Nothing wrong with that at all.

Good luck !

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  • .this! Logopedians aka speech-therapists are definitely helpful in such situations.
    – iLuvLogix
    Jul 14, 2021 at 16:03
  • Speech therapy mostly eliminated my stutter. Jul 14, 2021 at 16:16
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Some day you are going to be very old, with your work mostly done. Do you want to look back on a long life of opportunities not taken and accomplishments not achieved because you had a stutter?

Do what everyone else does about your stutter: ignore it. Take the promotion. Take all the promotions.

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I heard a speech on stuttering once discussing how they've tried to deal with this, things they've done to manage what they're trying to say, etc, and I think it may help.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iWn1CkIU_rc

Regarding taking the promotion, if you're not comfortable doing so, I would just explain that and politely decline. Regardless whether you can, it sounds like you might be less happy doing so and might be stressed out by it, or are otherwise not comfortable or ready.

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As the husband of a stutterer, and a person with a background in speaking to large groups, I say this: Your management asked you to be in that position, knowing you stutter. They have faith that you can do the job, else they wouldn't ask you to do it. Team meetings might be a slow go at first, but as they and you get used to it, you will likely clear up most of the issues. Same with other managers: people have a lot more patience than you give credit for. My wife recently started a job in clinical research, where she has to speak to patients and attend meetings with large groups. At first she was terribly anxious about talking to them, but as she's gotten "in the flow" she noted that (a) no one pointed out her stutter and (b) she stuttered less over time, as she got used to the situation. I think you're psyching yourself out a bit. Most people don't care, as we're not high-school bullies out here in professional-land...and those that are can be dealt with (hence them saying go to HR. That's their JOB, and they're good at it. You can handle it yourself, sure, but you don't have to...they get paid to do it.) You'll be fine. Grab the opportunity, go in with confidence and show them why they chose you to take the position.

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Our head office of a law firm is also a stutterer and she is very exposed to a lot of people from different perspectives: The team below/behind her, the lawyers above here, and especially all the companies and clients showing up at her and calling her all the time. It's not an issue, you can do it! And I think with experience you will do better and better. Others are not better at it, they are just used to it.

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    Did your head office give you any instructions regarding her stutter? I only ask because I had a prof who stuttered, and one of the first things he said was "If I'm stuttering, don't interrupt me and don't try to complete my sentence.". That was helpful. It gave us guidance to behave gracefully around him, and greatly reduced the awkwardness.
    – Clumsy cat
    Jul 15, 2021 at 11:15
  • No, she never did. In the beginning, I completed once a sentence indeed (it was a reflex,.. couldn't help) but she didn't like it though didn't mention it. I just wonder when and why it happens as I can hardly see a pattern. I also stuttered as a kid but I received weekly individual training in elementary school through a special teacher. Nevertheless, I notice that my speaking is a bit different. Whyever, when I use my brain a lot, especially for maths/physics through some days, my writings improve a lot while I speak much slower though more precise..
    – Ben
    Jul 15, 2021 at 12:17
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Everybody seem to evaluate whether you should take the opportunity instead of missing it because of the your fear that stuttering makes you inadequate for it. I would however like to point to the invisible elephant in the room. In my opinion, the most important question is instead "would you really like that new position"?

Let's ignore the fact that you stutter completely for the moment. If you did not stutter, do you think that doing the management work would make you happy (or at the very least, happier than the engineering job you currently have)?

Sure, there is the extra money in that promotion; but unless you are badly in financial trouble, more money is usually not a reason to go do something that does not make you happier. (and if you are in bad financial position, that is often unfortunately more related to bad habits than to the amount the money you earn - unless your income is way below poverty line)

So lets in addition pretend that there is no pay increase nor social station change involved -- for example let's say that you (who do not stutter in this example, remember?) were just hired, and for same pay and same title (and everything else the same) they offered you to freely choose what kind of work would you prefer to do:

  • engineering/security/development work, or
  • management work

And then decide:

  • If your answer is "management work" because of all the intruguing politics and people-handling work involved etc. - by all means go for it, and take that promotion (for all the reasons others have said)

  • If you however actually prefer the tech-side problem-solving to the political/management work, then decline that promotion. Remember: many a great and happy engineer have been promoted to management roles, to their eternal unhappiness.

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As a stutterer I can recommend few things to you

Accept the offer. They already know you stutter and they do not think it is an issue. They already offered you help if somebody wanted to make it an issue. And the HR card is a strong one - it means the one you report will have nonfriendly talk about respect in the workplace.

In most cases the stutter is psychological issue and can be addressed that way. It may be lack of confidence - false impostor syndome -, high stress, enforced lefthand/righthand switch... It may be caused by urge to pass ideas fast but you get clogged instead (something like trying to pour oil or honey fast through a bottleneck).

Training is your friend and a session(s) with psychologist are not any sign of weakness.

What helps me, and it may not work for you or it can, is using different language. My brain needs to deal with extra load of vocabulary and my speech is smoother. Another thing is singing. Dealing with extra rhythm and melody decrease the throughput of words and I do not stutter.

If I compare my first presentation to audience and the one I was confident there is nothing simillar. Almost no stutter, no clumsy movements... And it all came with expirience and confidence.

The problem is not that you stutter; the problem is why you stutter.

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  • "In most cases the stutter is psychological issue and can be addressed that way" - citation, please? I'd assume that in most cases the stutter is a persistent developmental stutter, which affects 1% of the adulthood population and is, last I checked, not psychologically caused.
    – Astrid
    Jul 17, 2021 at 13:39
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since it is difficult as a stutterer to deal with people at the best of times

I disagree that it isn't an issue. It obviously is to you and would impact on your confidence if not the teams view of you. Both very important things for a new manager to handle in the crucial first impressions stage.

Decide how much you want the job, whenever you are at a disadvantage for reasons out of your control and contemplating moving positions, you need to give it 100% and believe in your ability to master all facets of the job. If you're in doubt it will show through in leadership roles.

If that happens you may be fine, your colleagues might compensate for it, HR may come through for you etc,. or maybe not. But either way you have to rely on third parties for your success which is always a coin toss.

I have multiple serious disadvantages, the way I decide is whether I want the position badly enough and how badly failure would affect me. I would not want to go from being an excellent engineer to an ineffectual manager. I passed over a couple of promotions before I felt confident enough (regretted leaving positions more than once).

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As a manager, you will have control over how your team communicates and how decisions get made.

It could be that the current process involves boisterous meetings where everyone has lively debates, frequently interrupts each other, maybe occasional yelling etc. Such an environment might indeed be difficult for someone with a stutter to manage effectively. But since you are the manager, you can decide on another process that works better for your personality and skill set. Why not have fewer meetings? Smaller meetings? Meetings run according to a clear, more structured protocol (e.g., Robert’s Rules of Order)? More reliance on written communications? Or some completely new idea I’m not thinking of? Be creative and treat this as a social engineering problem to be solved — exactly the kinds of problems managers are paid to solve.

There are many ways to be an effective manager. Not all of them involve being a great or very confident speaker. Conversely, not all confident speakers are good managers — far from it. In fact, if you implement a more orderly collaborative process that doesn’t give disproportionate weight to the opinions of confident speakers, some of your more introverted/socially awkward team members might secretly thank you, and the quality of your team’s decisions and deliverables might actually end up improving.

Finally, there’s a book I heard about: “Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking”, which sounds like it may have some relevant wisdom to offer about your dilemma.

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