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Interacting with Non-Traditional Communicators

A lot of people are uneasy and unsure of the proper etiquette when talking to someone who doesn't use traditional real-time speech to communicate. Most non-traditional communicators go out of their way to overlook most transgressions of etiquette, but it can be a sign of tremendous respect to modify your own communication style to help both you and the non-traditional communicator better express your thoughts.

Below, a list of common tips is presented. However, all non-traditional communicators have their own preferences, some of which may differ from this list. For people you spend significant time with, it's always best to ask them personally what you could do to help the communication process. A simple, "Is there anything I could do differently while talking to you, to make it easier for both of us to communicate?" can go a long way! After all, more important then any of the suggestions below is your respect for the other person.

Tips for Better Communication

  • As with all people, assume they are intelligent until they prove otherwise!
  • Be patient - almost all non-traditional communication methods are extremely slow
  • Take turns speaking - say a short amount and then give the other person time to speak; Be careful about interrupting; Try not to talk about more than one idea at a time
  • Don't fill the "silence" while the other person is composing a thought with more of your own speech, allow both parties to say a reasonable amount
  • Don't ask them to "perform" for you by asking them to say certain words or asking questions just to watch them communicate - do not treat people like zoo exhibits
  • Speak normally (tone, volume, speed unless asked to do otherwise
  • Don't worry about saying they 'speak' or that you are 'talking' to them
  • Let the person know if you don't understand something
  • Offer to find someplace to sit or remain stationary if the person is trying to type or write
  • In group situations, give non-traditional communicators time and the opportunity to enter conversation - most have trouble 'timing' communication to occur during extremely short pauses
  • Don't 'take advantage' of the communication difference (for example, don't refuse to read a written message as a way of silencing disagreement)
  • If someone uses an interpreter or assistant, address communication to the communicator, not the assistant or interpreter
  • Don't touch people's communication devices
  • Extensive question and answer sessions about their communication methods can be annoying to many; ask if the person minds before engaging in extensive questioning
  • If you notice someone typing or writing or otherwise composing a thought, give them a chance to say something when you are done speaking
  • Ask before assuming the person would like you to finish her sentences
  • Don't pretend there is no communication difference!
  • The best communication is when both parties remain calm, relaxed, and interact mostly as they would if both parties spoke normally
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