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Letting Your Voice Be Heard at Meetings

from LEAVEN, Vol. 34 No. 2, April - May 1998, pp. 28-29
by Janice Batzdorff
Studio City, California, USA

After a rousing LLL meeting, do you seek quiet and solitude instead of joining others at a park or restaurant? When a young child gets into a skirmish, are you better able to offer guidance if you step away from the uproar so that you can hear yourself think? To promote breastfeeding, would you rather write a press release than strike up a conversation with a pregnant woman standing next to you at the market?

Perhaps you are an introverted or introspective Leader, someone who replenishes her energy by spending time by herself. If so, you bring valuable skills and an important perspective to your work as a La Leche League Leader.

Listening probably comes more naturally to you than conversing, so you readily provide mothers with the opportunity to sort out their thoughts and feelings and determine what works best for their families. If you think of additional information after you've finished answering a mother's questions, you can show her how much La Leche League cares by recontacting her. Since new mothers usually absorb only small amounts of information at a time, a two- or three-part discussion may be ideal for both of you.

Pivotal Role at Meetings

As an introspective Leader you also may play a pivotal role at meetings by noticing and communicating with other quiet mothers. Your leadership style can inspire these mothers to apply to become Leaders. Your parenting style shows ways to guide a child in a manner that suits his or her temperament.

"Introverts are lonely in groups," states psychologist Mary Sheedy Kurcinka in her book, Raising Your Spirited Child. "Their energy is drained as they socialize." Kurcinka says that introverts prefer interacting with just one person and don't readily share personal information.

A Series Meeting may be a mixed blessing for those who are introspective. Although the mother-to-mother support and practical information about breastfeeding are helpful, the introverted woman may have difficulty formulating her questions in a room full of chatting mothers and babies. Furthermore, after hearing three or four enthusiastic responses given to each question, she may refrain from asking anything in order to protect herself from being bombarded by that much input.

Only one of three people is an introvert, report Myers and Myers in Gifts Differing: Understanding Personality Type.. Applying the theory of Swiss psychologist Carl Jung to healthy people in everyday settings, Myers states that introverts are "likely to be thoroughly incomprehensible to the extroverts."

According to Kurcinka, extroverts gain their energy by talking, receiving feedback and having someone listen to them, even if that person doesn't respond. This type of conduct, states Myers, "is much esteemed in the present Western civilization, which is dominated by the extrovert viewpoint." This is not only because extroverts are more numerous, but also because they are more vocal and accessible.

Need Time to Reflect

Chances are your co-Leaders and most of the mothers at LLL meetings are extroverts. Discussions, therefore, may move at a pace that holds their interest, but is too rapid for mothers who need time to reflect before participating. If the extroverted viewpoint is the only one stated, introspective mothers may not receive the much-needed reassurance that their feelings about parenthood are normal.

Consider the poignant moment at a Series Meeting when a mother discloses the isolation she feels at home alone with her newborn. The extroverted mothers nod with empathy and rush to make helpful suggestions. The introspective mother, on the other hand, may be longing for time alone with her baby. Overwhelmed by out-of-town guests or a stream of visitors, she has different feelings than the outspoken mothers in the Group.

What about the confusion and invalidation breastfeeding mothers feel when they receive unsupportive parenting advice? The introverted mother may find this true as well, but in addition she may see it as an invasion of her privacy and an interruption of her thought process.

As an introspective Leader you are apt to notice the quiet or overwhelmed mother and can either gently attempt to bring her into the discussion or take her aside after the meeting to talk with her one-on-one. A follow-up phone call a day or two later would also he helpful to the mother who had little to say.

But suppose the introspective Leader herself can't get a word in edgewise during the lively discussion at meetings? This may happen because of the energy levels of her co-Leaders, the way leading responsibilities are divided, the size of the Group, even the room in which the meeting is held.

Identify Needs

Group Leaders can benefit from the approach recommended by Kurcinka in Chapter 5 of Raising Your Spirited Child. She urges parents of a challenging child to identify their own needs as extroverts or introverts, and to strive to keep their "energy banks" replenished. To help parents accomplish this she provides an easy-to- use checklist as well as practical strategies.

In order to arrive at a Series Meeting with sufficient energy, an extroverted Leader, for example, may want to call a close friend before the meeting to have a lively chat. In this way she wouldn't unwittingly use the discussion time to replenish herself.

The introverted Leader can gather her thoughts by spending time by herself the day of the meeting. She could get up earlier than her family that morning to have some quiet time. Or prior to leaving home for an evening meeting, she could arrange to have someone else interact with her more extroverted family members for an hour or so. These strategies might help her prepare for participating in group interactions.

The day-to-day fluctuations in Leaders' lives certainly will affect each of our needs as an introvert or extrovert. A child's illness, the birth of another baby, the arrival of a house guest, a change in schedules, will change energy levels and require alternative strategies for keeping an energy bank full.

Another way to assure that all Leaders' voices are heard at meetings is to find a workable leading style and setting for the Group. Refer to the chapter on leading Series Meetings in the LEADER'S HANDBOOK for various possibilities. It may be helpful for the Group to:

  • Divide into halves, thirds or fourths, depending on the number of Leaders. This will not only guarantee each Leader the chance to participate, but also give each time to attend to her children, if they are present.
  • Experiment with the order in which active leading is shared. The introverted Leader, for example, may be better able to present her viewpoint at the beginning rather than during the middle or at the end of the meeting.
  • If just one Leader actively leads a particular meeting, agree to have that Leader call on her introspective co-Leader several times to give her the opportunity to present her viewpoint.
  • Provide space on the sign-in sheet or circulate a pad of paper for written questions. The introspective Leader could be the one to review these questions and respond in an unhurried way.
  • Meet outdoors or divide a large Group in half so that both the introspective Leader and introspective Group members have enough "elbow room" to concentrate.

Some time and trial and error may be needed to devise a system that meets everyone's needs. Change may be more difficult for some Leaders, particularly if they have been with the Group longer and like the existing format. Keep flexibility and the fact that all Group Leaders are equal partners in mind. With a little creativity all Leaders' voices will be sure to be heard.

References

Kurcinka, M. Raising Your Spirited Child New York: Harper Collins, 1991.

Myers, I. and Myers, R Gifts Differing: Understanding Personality Type Palo Alto, California, USA: Davies-Black, 1995.

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