As I was waiting for my crew to arrive at the holding room to set up their equipment for a scheduled video interview with our young guest, the interviewer before me was talking with our guest like they’ve been the best of friends for a long time.
At one point, they were even doing a rap song together, which they later invited me to sing along, but I declined because I wasn’t familiar with the song. Yes, talk about being socially awkward and the disconnection with today’s millennials. In part, I was admiring this young interviewer’s eloquence in her speech that exudes so much confidence and energy (I later found out she was Christine Wong from BFM89.9, The Business Station).
Patterson (right) still stammers when he gets nervous, but he’s not allowing it to hold him back.
Hammered by a stammer?
Our young guest for our Learn From segment was Henry Patterson (video coming soon!), a 13-year-old British entrepreneur and founder of children’s brand Not Before Tea. As our interview went on, Patterson’s stammer became obvious. I had to ask him about it, knowing that he is often invited to speak at business conferences. How does he do it?
He probably developed his stammer after struggling to conform to expectations of the majority among his peers. As a young tween growing up as a student and business owner, Patterson had his fair share of naysayers and internet trolls. Being surrounded by people who support him has helped Patterson to rise above the negativity thrown at him.
Today, he still stammers when he gets nervous. But he is certainly not letting his occasional speech impediment hold him back.
It’s not a surprise that Patterson considers Sir Richard Branson as his role model because Branson reportedly stammered, too. So did King George VI as depicted in the movie The King’s Speech, starring Colin Firth as the future king. So do former General Electric chief executive officer Jack Welch and actor Samuel L Jackson.
Hidden strength in weakness?
To many, stammering is a sign of weakness. In the public eye, it’s often a measure of your confidence when you communicate with people. As it is, communication skills is one of the many skills future employers are looking for in a candidate. Is it really weakness, or can it be our greatest weapon of strength to show our humanity in authenticity?
In his book Give and Take: A Revolutionary Approach to Success, Adam Grant introduces us to David Walton, a successful trial lawyer who stammers. In what Grant terms as “powerless” communication, such communicators speak with vulnerability, revealing their weaknesses and using hesitations and disclaimers. It’s an effective way to exercise influence, and Walton successfully uses it in the courtroom.
In Walton’s first mock appellate argument, he shared how he made his mock judge cry because she felt bad for Walton when he started stammering more than normal. As a result, he started doubting his career choice (he didn’t make it in sales either after college because of his stammer) and spoke to his law professor about it. Thankfully, the professor assured Walton that his stammer would be an advantage and the jury would listen more closely to him and help him connect with them in the future.
Walton recalled his first time taking the lead in a high-profile jury trial. He stammered in the courtroom but his eventual victory surprised him, more so as he was up against his opponent who was highly articulated and very experienced. The jurors later told Walton that they really respected him and admired his courage in being a trial lawyer, despite his condition. He didn’t win because of his stammer, rather it created a stronger connection with the jury. The jurors saw through something that was genuine in Walton.
In Walton’s own words:
“It was an epiphany – my stutter was a great gift.”
It appears that people with stammer develop more empathy and compassion towards others. Because of their condition, they are focused to help others. They realise the importance of clear communication, and therefore value it more than those who don’t suffer from it.
In the case of Patterson, the young lad has already set up a foundation called Mighty & Young to encourage young people aged 11–14 to turn their passion into possibilities. He is using his experience to help those who may face similar life challenges thrown at them.
We all suffer from our own ‘stammers’ in life, i.e. our stumbling blocks that prevent us from achieving our fullest potential. To one, it may be a physical condition; to another, it may be something more psychological like your own limiting self-belief.
Click play to listen to this podcast on Belief System:
The first step to overcoming your ‘stammer’ is to acknowledge that you do have a challenge (and an added advantage). With this self-awareness comes your decision to do something about it. The choice is really in your hands. Will you use your ‘stammer’ as an excuse to stop you from making progress, or spur you on to make a difference in the lives of others?
As I write this reflective piece, I’m actually looking within myself to rediscover my ‘stammers’. I acknowledge the fact that I am a work-in-progress as there are many challenges ahead that I need to overcome, without losing my own identity or voice along the way. The latter part is perhaps the toughest for me. What about you?
What is holding you back from fulfilling your dreams and potential? Share your thoughts with the writer at firstname.lastname@example.org. She’ll love to hear from you.
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Lay Hsuan was part of the content curation team for Leaderonomics.com, playing the role of a content gatekeeper as well as ensuring the integrity of stories that came in. She was an occasional writer for the team and was previously the caretaker for Leaderonomics social media channels. She is still happiest when you leave comments on the website, or subscribe to Leader's Digest, or share Leaderonomics content on social media.
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