How can I make a PWS feel more comfortable during conversation?

I used to work in a bank and there was a young lady who would occasionally come in to do transactions, her stuttering was frequent and I was never sure if I should make conversation, or just get through the transaction. I remember wanting to engage in small talk with her but I did not want pressure her, in hindsight I feel like making conversation anyway would have been the better thing to do but I hesitated because of the idea of making her uncomfortable.

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How can I make a PWS feel more comfortable during conversation? — 7 Comments

  1. Dear Saidee,

    HI! Thank you for asking questions, and welcome to the ISAD Online Conference! We love hearing questions from people willing to learn.

    Can I answer a question with a question? If she did not stutter, would you make small talk with her? If you answer is “yes”, then you are not treating her like any other person. If she chooses not to talk back to you, then she chooses that.

    Also, there are ways to approach people that helps them feel comfortable. Again, what makes you feel comfortable with new people? A bet a smile helps. I would bet a kind voice helps. I bet just being a caring person helps other feel comfortable. You might want to start with those things. You don’t have to ask deep questions or even ask her things where she needs to talk. You could do some basic human kindness behaviors and share some of your positive and caring small talk ideas and see if she chooses to engage back.

    I know for me as PWS and an SLP, the people I end up talking to the most are the ones who have been kind to me, treated me like anyone else, ask me things about me that I felt comfortable talking about, and that I could tell cared genuinely about what I had to say.

    Does that make sense and/or help?

    With compassion and kindness,

    • Thank you for the warm welcome Scott! I am excited from reading the responses I have received. You make a very good point, by me approaching the situation this way I was not giving her the opportunity and I should not have been making those decisions on her behalf. Your response was definitely helpful! It basically comes down to treat people the way you want to be treated, sometimes it’s easy to forget the simple things.

      Thank you kindly,
      Saidee Solano

  2. My general advice is to treat people who stutter as everyone else. If it is (or was) your custom to engage in conversation with customers, then there should be no difference at all with regard to whether a customer is fluent or not. If a person who stutters does not wish to engage in conversation, you would probably ascertain that quickly from the person’s immediate response – from the person’s body language, facial expression, and/or an obvious reluctance to speak.
    But people who stutter should not be treated differently than anyone else.

    Thank you for asking this important question, and I hope this has been helpful!

    • Hi Paul! I feel like I was overthinking when I was faced with these situations. These responses have really reassured me, in the future if I was faced with a situation like this I would definitely give the PWS a chance to engage in conversation. If it is something that they are not comfortable with thats okay but I know now I should always leave that choice up to them.

      Thank you kindly,
      Saidee Solano

  3. Having conversation with any one – be it small talk or big talk – has to feel right and be sincere. As Paul mentions above, you should not do anything differently for a person who stutters just because they stutter.

    Also, if the person stutters frequently while engaging in small talk with you over a transaction, an impatient person standing behind her might make a comment about “hurry it up” or “excuse me, there’s a line”. That might make the person who stutters feel very self conscious.

    If she was the only one in your line, it might be pleasant to make small talk. But if it’s lunch time and the bank is busy, I’d consider how she might feel if she thinks she’s impinging on another customer’s time.


    • Hi Pamela! I really like how you brought up the possibility of someone in line being impatient because that was always one of my concerns. I did genuinely want to make conversation with her, but I think it is really important to read the room and consider the kind of situation I would be putting that person in. Looking back on my encounters with the young lady I reacted to every scenario the same. I wonder what the outcome would have been if I would have tried to engage in conversation with her on a day when the bank was calm. Going forward I know what I could do differently, thank you for taking the time to share your input.

      Saidee Solano

  4. You should treat her the same as any other customer who comes into the bank. The only difference is the pace and timing of the conversation, but the situation is the same. When a “fluent” customer comes into the bank and you want to engage in small talk, you would say something to get the conversation going and listen to the other person until they finish responding and it would continue from there. You should do the same with a PWS, but you just might have to listen a little longer. It’s really as easy as that because PWS want to connect with others, but it’s often hard for us to initiate the communication.