Speech impediments create various degrees of communication difficulties. However, they aren’t indicative of intelligence. The trick is finding a way to express clear meaning respectfully.
However, this task is easier said than done if you’re unfamiliar with the territory. Here are nine tips for communicating with someone with a speech impediment.
1. Recognize the Signs
You might not know that someone has a speech impediment upon meeting them. For example, people with brain injuries can experience occasional aphasia that they learn how to mask in many situations. They may avoid jobs and social occasions where they have to speak in public or master the dramatic pause – to compensate for those moments when the right word simply won’t come.
Other times, you get valuable clues that something is awry, even in young children who haven’t yet become verbal. For example, children should begin playing with vocalizations and responding to specific sounds by six months. Failure to do so could indicate a speech impediment or another disorder such as deafness. Only your pediatrician can determine the need for testing.
Occasionally, you might notice someone’s impediment the minute they introduce themselves. Please avoid jumping to conclusions. Many people who struggle with speech have average to above-average intelligence – they merely have trouble expressing themselves the typical way.
2. Remove Distractions
Televisions and music players create lovely background noise that can make you feel less lonely if you live or work solo. However, they can create significant communication difficulties regardless of whether you have an impediment. If the other party already struggles to understand, these barriers can make it impossible to follow the conversation.
You might not have much choice if you work in a noisy office. However, try to create accommodations here, too. For example, you could speak to the other person in a private conference room instead of stopping by their cubicle, creating quiet places in otherwise open floor plans.
3. Use Shorter Phrases
Long word strings muddle your meaning if the other person has comprehension challenges. Make your sentences short, sweet, and clear. That doesn’t mean dumbing down your message, but instead simply eliminating excess wordiness.
For example, consider this mouthful: “You know, I’m feeling hungry – would you like to go out or stay in? There’s that new place down the street that I’ve been dying to try, although I don’t know if they have a vegan menu.”
Instead, why not stick with, “Want to go out to eat? How about that new place? Will their menu work for you?”
4. Include Non-Verbal Communication
You say much more than you express in words. Monitoring your nonverbal communication can make you clearer when talking with someone with a speech impediment. It could also bring unexpected perks, like helping you accelerate your career.
For example, your tone of voice can convey annoyance or delight – what does yours say? Do you use gestures to indicate what you mean, or do you defensively fold your arms across your chest?
Keep in mind that nonverbal communication can be misread. For example, a limp handshake doesn’t necessarily indicate low confidence. The other person could merely have a bad case of arthritis. If you aren’t certain, ask.
5. Establish the Topic
Speech impediments don’t only impact how a person expresses themselves verbally. It can also affect their comprehension. Establishing the topic of conversation can eliminate significant confusion.
For example, you might say, “Are you referring to something that happened at your new job?” if you can’t understand what the conversation is regarding. Alternatively, you can initiate a conversation by saying something like, “Do you have a second to talk about X?” to give them context if they struggle to follow your words.
Remember when your teacher would ask you to summarize what you read? They were checking for understanding, and you can use this technique when communicating with someone with a speech impediment for the same purpose.
Model this behavior by saying things like, “What I’m hearing is…” and reiterating the main point of the speaker’s message. Give them time to correct you if you miss the mark. In work situations, you might ask them to explain the steps they’ll take to tackle a given task to ensure they’re on the right track.
7. Ask Clarifying Questions
If you’re unsure what the other person is trying to say, please ask for clarification. For example, you might ask what resources they used in preparing a presentation or what steps they’ll use to break down a longer task.
Please, be honest – it makes you a more authentic communicator. For example, it’s okay to say, “I’m sorry, my mind wandered for a minute, would you mind repeating that?” if your attention strayed elsewhere.
8. Mind Your Volume
For some reason, people seem to think that pumping up their speech volume will help someone with a speech impediment understand them more effectively. While this approach might work if the person has a hearing impairment, it comes across as condescending if that’s not the underlying issue.
Therefore, mind your volume, please. The other person can always ask you to speak up if they can’t hear you.
9. Let Them Share What Helps
Some people with speech impediments quickly whip out a pencil and pen when things get rocky. Others need more prompting. If you’re struggling to communicate, ask the other person what would help.
Individuals with speech impediments often invent various coping mechanisms to get their message across despite their disabilities. Give them a chance to communicate in the most effective way for them.
Communicating With Someone With a Speech Impediment
Communication is vital to relationships. Speech impediments aren’t indicative of a lack of intelligence. They merely represent one barrier to finding meaning between two people.
A little respect, patience, and savviness will keep the lines clearer. Heed the tips above for communicating with someone with a speech impediment.