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Are You Listening?

Julia Keeling
Toronto, Ontario, Canada
From: LEAVEN, Vol. 37 No. 4, August-September 2001, p. 78

The "Listening Exercise for Leader Applicants"-which the A/CLA may send you and the Leader Applicant you sponsor -can help the Leader Applicant to fulfill these two Leadership Skills Criteria.

The purpose of the Listening Exercise is to give the Leader Applicant an opportunity to observe a meeting from the point-of-view of a Leader in training and to gain insight into how she might handle similar situations.

"We couldn't do the exercise last month; there were no new mothers there!"

You can adapt the Listening Exercise to any meeting. If the meeting consists largely of Group Workers, what sorts of comments, questions, and concerns do they present? How does a Leader respond? The Leader Applicant might want to consider how a Leader handles unexpected situations. For instance, if the meeting starts with regular attendees and a new mother arrives part way through - that could cause a Leader to change plans quickly!

You and the Applicant can use the exercise in a variety of ways, depending on what you wish to focus on at the time, and depending on the opportunities that arise during the meeting.

The Applicant and the Leader can focus on listening, and another Leader can lead the Series Meeting discussion. If you are the only Leader in the Group, you and the Applicant may want to visit a nearby Group instead. If yours is the only local Group, you may find it helpful to make notes immediately following the meeting. It is important to meet with the Applicant soon afterward, while the details of the meeting are fresh in your minds.

To begin the exercise, you might focus on a few specific things some mothers said during the meeting that you or the Applicant consider particularly interesting. This might involve "listening" by watching body language or facial expressions. What was the mother asking, saying, worried about? What feelings did you perceive? Were there any specific questions a mother asked the Leader? Did other members reply? Did only the Leader reply? What differences (or similarities) were there in the responses of Group members as compared to the Leader(s)?

As you discuss your observations, here are some considerations to guide your discussion:

LLLI Philosophy
How did the Leader weave LLLI philosophy into what she said? What gave you the impression that the mother was or was not comfortable with the ideas presented?

Accurate Breastfeeding Information
How was this conveyed to the mother? Did she seem to understand the suggestions offered? How might the Applicant have explained it? Did the Leader refer to LLL resources to provide the mother with information? Did she ask Group members for suggestions?

Meeting Goals
Each LLL Series Meeting has a purpose (see LEADER'S HANDBOOK, Chapter Two, pages 43-118) which is reflected in the meeting outline the Leader prepares. If a mother had questions that were outside the meeting's topic, how did the Leader respond and bring the discussion back to her original outline and to fulfill the meeting goals?

Bias
All Leaders and Leader Applicants - all people - have biases. During leadership preparation, Applicants are often encouraged to identify their personal bias(es) by way of inner examination. The Listening Exercise could provide another vehicle for you and the Applicant to recognize a bias and examine your inner reaction during a Series Meeting. If you recognize that "uh-oh" feeling, can you put it aside while addressing and helping other mothers? Did any situations at the meeting make either of you particularly uncomfortable? For instance, perhaps a mother talked about how she "trained" her baby to sleep all night or about a trip she took away from her baby. A valuable discussion about bias can result. Can the Applicant come to terms with her bias? A Leader needs to learn either to work with a bias or put it aside while helping. Exploring feelings can help you and the Applicant come to terms with them.

Follow-up Discussion
With the details of the meeting clear in your memory, you may want to consider how some responses or reactions may or may not be helpful to a mother; why or why not? How might some statements be changed to become more effective? How is body language an indication (or not) of how a mother feels or what she is thinking?

You and the Applicant will have different perspectives on the same meeting because you are two different listeners. That would be a learning experience in itself! Remember to talk about what made you smile, too, and what made the meeting satisfying. The Listening exercise can shine light on what we do "naturally" and how much we've learned.

If you wish to try a handy, valuable exercise that can enhance an Applicant's and your listening skills, all within the time and context of a Series Meeting, ask your A/CLA to send you a copy of the "Listening Exercise for Leader Applicants".

Julia Keeling was accredited in 1982 and led Series Meetings with the LLL Canada - Agincourt and West Hill Groups for 10 years. In 1985 she became an ACLA and has worked in the Leader Accreditation Department ever since. Presently, she is the Administrator of Leader Accreditation (ALA) for LLL Canada. She and her husband, David, live in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. They have three sons and a daughter; Simon, 25; Jeremy, 22; Nicholas, 19; and Rachel, 14.

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