How I brought my whole self to work

Paul Barrett from the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, part of our network of ambassadors, explains what it means to ‘bring his whole self to work’ as someone who stammers.

 

 

The department values were launched recently, promoting inclusiveness and inviting everyone to “bring their whole selves to work”. But what might this mean?

For me it started last October. A Civil Service wide blog on International Stammering Awareness Day caught my eye. I have a stammer but I had never heard of this day (although I knew about International Doughnut Day!). The excellent blog by Betony Kelly sought to create a Civil Service Stammering Network and raise awareness of stammering.

In my career I had never had contact with stammering organisations or come across colleagues who stammered. In retrospect I think Betony’s blog was my invitation. Knowing there were others who stammered at work and that a group was being formed filled me with enthusiasm. It was all the permission I needed to bring more of myself to work.

My stammer is a covert one; this means you may not even notice I stammer because I manage it. So I took that first step, maybe the hardest for me, but the most important; I started sharing that I had a stammer. I shared with my line manager, I shared with my Directorate and now I am sharing with you.

E-mailing the Directorate certainly got my “fight or flight” adrenalin response flowing. But the response to my e-mail, which included a link to Betony’s blog and the British Stammering Association’s tips on recruiting people with stammers, was really positive and supportive. So I am carrying on, waving this flag and owning my stammer.

Gone (well, almost) are the days of worrying whether I will stammer when I present to a group or chair a meeting. Now I confidently open with “I have a stammer” and tell others “it’s OK to stammer, and if I do today, I’m not going to worry about it”. I enjoy presenting and chairing and this openness allows me to bring more of myself to the moment and focus more on the message and outcome I am aiming for.

How can we bring more of ourselves to the workplace? What is it that might be stopping us? Some may have the confidence from the start; for others, they may want to see awareness and understanding in place or wait until there is safety in numbers.

I’m working with the Civil Service Stammering Network and the Employers Stammering Network to develop awareness raising materials which I can share with the Department. Hopefully we will have something ready for the next International Stammering Awareness day on 22 October 2017.

I am also offering an open invitation to others who identify with stammering to share more of yourself in the workplace. Join the Civil Service Stammering Network or contact me if you would like to be part of an informal BEIS Stammering Network. Or get in touch if you would like to speak in confidence first. I can also provide a contact in the Employers Stammering Network.

Have you had your invitation to bring your whole self to work? What does this mean for you?

 

How could I encourage others with disabilities to be open when I wasn’t?

Amanda Bradbury, from Department for Work and Pensions, talks about making the choice to be open about her stammer.

It was only very recently I acknowledged that I have a disability. I have a stammer. I’ve had a stammer since childhood and over the years I’ve learned how to manage it.

If you met me you probably wouldn’t realise. Why haven’t I acknowledged this before? I honestly don’t know. I suppose part of it was embarrassment and because, lets be honest, not many of us like to show others we can be vulnerable – especially in the workplace.

There are a few reasons why I’ve decided now is the right time for me to be open about my disability. I’m involved in a Civil Service Local Diversity and Inclusion Network and thought how could I encourage others with disabilities to be open when I wasn’t? I was also inspired by the former shadow chancellor Ed Balls (I’m a huge strictly come dancing fan!) who recently discussed his own stammer on a radio show. I thought if someone in the public eye could have the confidence to talk about his own speech difficulties then so could I. Finally, age not only brings wrinkles but experience and a confidence I didn’t have when I was younger.

My hope is that by being open about my stammer, I encourage others in the same position to do the same. Some years ago I was placed in a job role that involved me delivering training courses. At the time this was my worst nightmare – even with a very well controlled stammer. Instead of being open with my then line manager and talking through my anxieties and asking for support, I worked myself into such a state I ended up paying for hypnotherapy to help me overcome my fears.

How different an experience this would have been had I had the courage to ask for help. For anyone else in a similar position, I would urge you to take the plunge ask for help. Finally, don’t let your stammer hold you back.

My mission was to hide my stammer at all costs

Angela Morgan from the Department of Work and Pensions opens up about her covert stammer.

Angela Morgan

For those colleagues who know me, you would potentially describe me as confident, wears nice shoes and doesn’t stop talking. What most of you don’t know is that I have a covert stammer. Well, there you have it – I have a stammer – it’s out there now.

I substitute words I can’t say for alternative ‘easier’ words. I avoid situations on a regular and consistent basis. I order drinks I don’t want, because it’s the only one I’m confident I can say, without being ‘found out’ as someone who stammers.

When I started working, my mission was to hide my stammer at all costs. The shame, embarrassment and humiliation of being ‘non-fluent’, therefore not ‘normal’ was a huge burden on my shoulders. Over time, although my confidence grew, my stammer remained. The emotional and mental energy it took to keep up the pretence of being fluent was beyond measure.

Occasionally, I was pushed into a corner and had no option but to tell a colleague (usually my line manager at the time). At that point, I referred to my stammer as ‘the thing’. The negative feelings I had around my speech impediment wouldn’t even let me say the word ‘stammer’… What was I thinking ? If I didn’t say the word I didn’t have it ?

My previous job as a Work Coach was as rewarding as it was stressful. Although I managed to appear fluent most of the time, the mask slipped occasionally and the limited confidence I had took another few hits. I am NOT good on the telephone, and with the agreement of my line manager at the time, my phone was diverted to another member of the team. Everyone was very supportive, I was less anxious and this continued for a number of years.

Everything changed one day last year. My role at the time was as a coach and I was chatting with a colleague about an example of customer service. Before I knew what I was doing, I told him about my stammer. My colleague encouraged me to call the Employee Assistance Program to speak with one of the counsellors. It took me about 4 weeks to pluck up the courage to make the call… Great, I thought – I need to use the phone to tell someone I am have a huge issue with not being fluent on the phone! After speaking to the team, I was offered counselling, which helped me to be less negative about my stammer. I was encouraged to be more open and confide in more people and colleagues.

With just one exception, everyone I have told has been very supportive and understanding. They have asked me how they can help me and what would make my life easier.

I started a new role in January 2017, and the anxiety of the phone returned. I made the decision to tell my new team and be open from the start. Although my desire to be ‘normal’ was just as strong, the energy used to remain covert was enormous.

My new team have been incredibly supportive. Every concern or worry I had was dealt with or resolved with compassion and understanding. I am currently receiving speech and language therapy and I am working with two colleagues to produce some intranet guidance to support other people in DWP.

Although my phone is still on divert, my new mission is to move forward, gain skills and confidence. Who knows… I may even be able to answer the phone one day!

There is a huge spectrum of the severity of stammering, both overt and covert. Although general consensus is to not interrupt a stammerer, and give them all the time required for them to speak, please don’t assume – personally, I would welcome someone helping me out if I was struggling or stuck on a certain word. I am happy to talk to other people who are thinking about coming out as a covert stammerer – take the plunge! Just comment below or contact the Civil Service Stammering Network.