have been bouncing joyfully or singing along the activities covered
in the last chapter, it would mean that you have courage and stamina
to change some of your oldest habits. It would also mean that you can
push yourself a little further! In this chapter we will take up a few
more issues, which though central to act of talking, have always been
taken for granted by all of us: Breathing, pausing between words,
looking in to the eyes of the other person and above all listening
carefully. Many people believe that LISTENING attentively constitutes
more than ninety percent of good communication!
ever had difficulty recalling the name of the person you met the
other day? Stood in market scratching your head, trying to recall
what you were told to buy? Do you feel breathless whenever you
stammer? If yes, read on carefully and PRACTICE these ideas. Yes, you
change, not by what you know, but by what you DO- actually do.
is medical evidence that different types of breathing achieve
different physiological goals- for example belly breathing ventilates
the lower lobes of the lung and this promotes more efficient exchange
of oxygen. There is also proof that when we anticipate stress, we
tighten our chest and belly and our respiration becomes shallow,
irregular or even ceases completely for short periods. Since we are
no more breathing out, we are unable to speak. Some children, on the
other hand discover that breathing out might help them during a
block. But when they breath out, sometime, lungs get totally emptied
and still the phonation (sound) does not begin. Finally, they may be
able to whisper just a few words with great difficulty with the
little residual air.
also been noticed that there is a reverse cycle too: relaxed deep
breathing can calm down a PWS and help her/ him gain better conscious
control of his speech. Watching one’s own breath can also induce
deeper states of inner consciousness, wherein one might see his or
her avoidances, fears, habitual responses to anticipated (not real)
stress and other emotional/ psychological issues associated with
stammering. Over the months or years, it may be possible to heal
oneself through this path. The technique of watching one's breath
should be learned from a qualified teacher or practitioner of
meditation or in a formal Vipassana course. The technique does not
require one to believe in any supernatural deity. It only demands
that one has faith in one’s own senses, mind and observation.
practice, it means becoming aware of your breathing at different
times of the day; In a traffic jam, were you using the chest (upper?
lower?) or the belly muscles to breathe? As you thought of an
important deadline, did you tighten your chest and stopped breathing
for a few seconds? As you approached a feared word, what happened to
your breath? etc.
on the ground and practice two different kinds of breathing;
hand on chest and the other on navel (belly). You can even use two
books instead of your hands.
breathe in and out slowly and normally. You will see both the books
(on chest and on navel) moving up and down with breath.
a deep inhalation and try to raise the book on your chest
vigorously, without moving the book on navel. You will succeed in
doing this after couple of attempts: this is chest breathing and
useful for strong muscular efforts, like running fast etc. Normal
speech should not need such effort.
the other method: Take a deep breath and try to raise the book on
your abdomen as far up as possible- WITHOUT moving the book on
you practice belly breathing correctly, the hand (or the book) on
the chest will be still or will move very little. After a few days,
put a thick book (or couple of bricks) across your stomach and try
pushing it up, with every inspiration. Later, you may discover the
fine difference between breathing from chest and from belly. Now
onwards, whenever you notice that your breath is irregular, shallow
or stopped, promptly and consciously go into gentle belly breathing-
ie. pushing the belly out and letting it fall back on its own.
benefit of focusing on your breath is: it brings your mind to the
present moment in a blink! Your mind is no more ruminating on the
worries of future or regrets of past. You become calm, collected and
rooted in the reality of the present moment. Over a period, you may
find it very relaxing- to switch your attention to your breath,
every now and then, during work, while driving and even while making
mean to say that chest breathing is bad or has no role in speech;
You may have to fill your chest with lot of air, before you shout
out an instruction to a large group in a big auditorium or open
field. But for normal conversation, group presentation, interview
etc. belly breathing is the best and sufficient.
do people tend to hold their breath and struggle when they are in a
block? Why dont they just relax and let words come out? Impulses from
the brain tell us to hold our breath when we are anticipating strong
physical effort- like lifting a heavy box. This is done so that chest
and abdomen become an airtight chamber, which can act as a fulcrum of
a lever. Speaking can never be such an effort.
believed that somehow, brain in some circumstances, mistakenly
perceives speaking to be such an effort – let us say, during a
decisive interview. The impulses traveling down from the brain,
therefore, are transmitted to wrong set of nerves and we suddenly
find ourselves struggling and straining to speak as if the particular
word was a piece of cork stuck in our throat and which could be
expelled ONLY by force. Normally one will strain in this fashion
(called Valsalva maneuver), only if one was constipated or was
picking up a heavy weight. But our brain, due to past experiences,
considers speaking to be such a threatening ordeal, that it orders a
Valsalva reflex. So instead of talking, we find ourselves straining
and struggling in a block. To appreciate this theory by Perry read
To appreciate what Valsalva reflex is, do this exercise: Stand up;
bend your knees as if sitting in an imaginary chair; Hook your
fingers in front of your chest and now try to pull your hands apart.
This should generate great muscular effort. While maintaining the
high tension in your fingers and hands- try to say your name. It will
be very difficult. This is what happens during a stammering block.
overall, message for you is: train your mind to think of speaking
situations as beautiful opportunities (not life & death
situations), maintain gentle belly breathing and nip any tendency to
STRAIN in the bud, ie. as soon as it surfaces in your consciousness.
As soon as you feel an urge to strain - smile, take a deep breath,
consciously relax your belly and use gentle onset and a technique you
have used consistently and are comfortable with.
is a complex skill. Intellectual and physical, both components of
speech require coordination and effort. So, obviously you perform
better when you give yourself sufficient time for this effort through
frequent pauses. Many of us labor under this false notion that
communication means talking non-stop! We think that a silence in a
conversation must be an uncomfortable moment for both parties and
will be considered a weakness on the part of the speaker. PWS often
feel under pressure to prove themselves by talking continuously!
Truth is just the other way around. Silence is an essential and
natural part of good communication. People who talk non-stop are
considered rude and poor conversation partners. Pause should be
practiced consciously as meaningful breaks in the flow where:
ends, signified by a comma, colon etc.
sentence ends, indicated by a full stop.
concept or thought is being introduced, often indicated by a hyphen,
dash or a new paragraph etc.
expressing emotions (exclamation mark!) or question (?).
(…) indicating unsaid thoughts.
[ ] or Parentheses ( ) indicating additional information.
to give a few moments for the information to sink in.
expect a response (verbal or non-verbal) from your audience.
attentively to your partner is equally important. Many PWS are so
caught up in formulating their response that they hardly listen to
their partner, leading to confusion and communication failure. The
other person gets the impression that you are just not interested in
what he or she has to share. Pausing should be unhurried, relaxed and
can be used for taking a deep breath, formulating our thoughts and
reviewing audience response, especially during a formal presentation.
conscious meaningful pauses help a pws by stopping his speech
mechanism completely; otherwise it tends to gather momentum and
become uncontrollable after a couple of sentences, leading to moments
of stuttering or a block eventually.
with reading a newspaper or book, with full attention to punctuation
as discussed above.
completely and take a deep breath at every punctuation (comma,
colon, semi-colon, full stop, hyphen etc.) - and then proceed
regular practice for 2-4 weeks, practice conversation with a friend
in a similar fashion: stop and breathe in gently wherever you think
a punctuation mark should be, if you were writing it down. During
the unhurried pause, maintain the eye contact, smile if appropriate,
be aware of the time pressure but do not react to it.
later, practice it with a larger group and under different
circumstances. While speaking in a formal setting, resist the time
pressure. If you have been given only three minutes to present a
long report- set up your priorities, leave out all the un- (or not
so) important details and present only the most salient information
in a relaxed way, interspersed with meaningful pauses. You may
preface your presentation with something like this: Since
I have just three minutes, I will share the most relevant
information with you. To
ensure understanding though, you may give handouts at the end.
important thing to remember is: during a pause your speech mechanism
should really come to a stop and you should be completely relaxed.
Your pause should not be like an idling engine on a red light.
Here is a
group exercise to develop power to resist time pressure, while
speaking: Sit down with some pea-nuts in the center, with members of
your self help group. You have to ask a question from the person
sitting next to you (what is the color of your shirt? What is the day
today? Are you not Rahul? Etc). That member must answer AFTER eating
one pea-nut completely and then carry on asking the question from the
next person and so on. Whoever forgets to eat the pea-nut before
answering is out. Whoever lasts till the end could be titled 'King or
Queen of Pausing'. This can be a fun game both for adults and
children. (From 'Fifty Activities for the Children who stutter', by
Dr Peter Reitzes.)
the doorway to the soul of communication
conversation, whenever we feel uncomfortable or face a difficulty-
like having to speak an untruth, or say something uncomplimentary
about a colleague, we tend to look away. This is the most common give
away sign. PWS do it frequently but unconsciously. There are other
signs too: moving restlessly, scratching your head, touching the side
of the nose or covering your mouth with the back of your hand under
some pretext etc. While these mannerisms do not help in saying the
feared word, they do distract the listener. The listener is left
wondering about these secondary behaviors rather than focusing on our
good body language be faked? Yes. Even if you are not feeling very
confident, you can convey a positive image by looking into the eyes
of the other person, as you normally do - EVEN when you are
stammering. In fact, many people find it very difficult to stammer
while maintaining a good eye contact with their audience. Even
listeners feel communication to be better when the pws does not look
away. So, you dont have to wait for a cure before you start looking
into people's eyes while talking.
Here is a
small pad and paper in your pocket and go on the road or a park:
strangers and greet them in a happy fashion (Hello, Ram-ram, Hi
etc.). Just greet them.
the pad out soon after and note down the color of their eyes,
eye-brows and other facial characteristics: wearing glasses?
Bifocal? Moustache? Big or small? Clean shaven? Bald? Hair dyed?
on forehead? Any head gear? What colour? Etc.
next person and again make a note.
for ten strangers everyday for some weeks till you become good at
recalling color of the eyes and other details (eg. names) of the
people you talk to even for a few minutes.
remember, eye contact does not mean staring. It is just telling the
other person through your eyes that you are okay with your own
stammer and that you are listening to him or her very carefully; you
are very interested in what they are telling you. So, you dont stare.
You move your gaze around in a normal fashion- but keep coming back
to their eyes. How to move your eyes around is explained very well by
Steven Aitchinson, a life coach:
breaking the eye contact don’t look down as this might indicate the
ending of your part of the conversation. Instead, look up or to the
side as if your are remembering something. Try it just now: don’t
move your head, and think about the first time you started school.
You will notice your eyes might move up or to the side as you try to
remember this. So when your listener sees this they will think you
are trying to remember something and keep on listening to you. (from
contact is part of overall body language, which can be best studied
and improved by frequent video recordings of self (and others) while
talking to people- alone or in a group, or talking to someone on
phone etc. Review these recordings with a friend and ask yourself: Am
I coming through as a genuine person, comfortable with myself and the
subject matter? Do I look and sound convincing? Inviting? Open?
Aggressive or Caring? approachable? Also, do little role plays or
mimicry and video record and analyze it later. Role plays offer fun
opportunity to experiment with your body language and improve it.
you remember how your whole body strained to listen to your exam or
interview results on a poor phone line? Or your boss telling you
about that much deserved increment? Or the last boarding call
announcement for your flight? When we are highly interested in the
information, our body and mind adopts an attitude, which is called
active listening. This attitude can be learned and consciously
applied, whenever you want to convey that you are listening and
interested. Since listening is almost 90% of communication, you
should be using this approach almost all the time! Here is how you
the speaker, maintain eye contact; lean towards him (if
on the whole message and its meaning.
the words mentally as you hear them (it will help in recalling it
your mind OFF every other distraction (cell-phone, surroundings,
what you want to do next etc.)
interrupt or make counter-arguments, even in thoughts. Just listen,
as if your life depended on it.
you think you are getting bored- keep those thoughts under check
and consciously GET INTERESTED in what is being said.
a nod, or say, “Yes” “Okay” etc. to let the speaker know
that you are listening and understanding.
other ways to acknowledge: ask intelligent questions; recap or
rephrase or summarize what you just heard at appropriate intervals.
clarifications if needed.
listening requires a deep level of awareness, ability to pick up one
soft word against a noisy background. Also the ability to switch
yourself into active listening mode at will. This comes with constant
practice and observation. Recall the last time when you were trying
to make sense to a bored clerk or an indifferent colleague. They can
teach you all the things, which YOU should NOT be doing.
is an interactive exercise for a group: Divide in pairs and let
everyone tell each other certain basic facts about themselves: name,
occupation, zodiac sign, one hobby, education etc. After ten minutes,
in a plenary session, let everyone introduce their partners one by
one. Let the partner correct wherever needed and keep a simple score
for comparison. In the next round, they can share more complex
details like birth place, graduation subjects and marks and work
experience. Recalling these details later, will require active