My name is Sharon Steed, and I am the founder and principal of Communilogue, LLC, an empathy consultancy. I speak at companies and conferences globally on empathy at work. My story is unique in that I got my start speaking and consulting in a non-traditional way.
This picture to the right is me at around the age I began to stutter. And stuttering has been an enormous part of my life since that age. I developed a lot of communications neuroses, and the way I chose to approach conversations shifted dramatically.
I obsessively thought about how I sounded, look and how others felt as I struggled to get a word out. I was constantly concerned that I was slowing the conversation down and making others uncomfortable when I stuttered. And, in retrospect most of my friends and classmates were quite good listeners, I felt that the way I spoke made me an ineffective communicator. So I stopped talking. I stopped saying my opinion and telling jokes, and I steered clear of topics that made me feel anxious (I knew those were the ones that I would stutter more on).
As I grew up and hit milestones - high school graduation, college, the job search, and the “real world” - I hoped that I’d be better able to deal with stuttering as I gained the maturity and strength that came with age. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to get a handle on why speech so I continued to sit on the sideline as those around me continued to hit milestones: first jobs, dream jobs, grad school, and even marriage and children. Stuttering had completely crippled me, and I knew it was time to make a change.
Changing my story
The reason why I am doing what I do now is because of a speech therapist. I went to her when I knew that I needed to “fix” my stuttering so I could live a better life. I wanted a solution, to learn the techniques I needed to in order to stop stuttering - or at least minimize it - all together. After a few sessions of practicing those techniques, she finally said to me the thing that truly changed my life: “the only way these will ever work for you is if you are first okay with stuttering.”
Being okay with stuttering was truly a foreign concept. How could anyone be okay with an insecurity? Why would anyone want to be okay with something that makes them different? And how will I ever come to a place of acceptance? It turns out, all of those things are possible.