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Managing the Group:
Working Together When Ideas Differ

Amy Shelton
Harvest, Alabama USA
From: LEAVEN, Vol. 34 No. 6, December 1998 - January 1999, p. 133

Even though breastfeeding and mothering are significant in our lives, they don't make up our totality. For as many Leaders as there are, there are that many personalities, characteristics and unique individuals. In no way do we all agree on everything, including our interpretation of LLLI philosophy. It is normal to have our own ideas, distinct from those of other Leaders.

Here are some suggestions for working together in a prickly relationship with someone whose ideas and values differ from our own.

Leaders come to LLL with different ideas and lifestyles due to geographic origin, age, economic bracket, level of education, religion, family size, ages of children, professional background and the level of support received from their partner and other family members.

In addition, certain factors may contribute to differing Leader ideas within the LLL framework:

  • the length of time a Leader has been involved with LLL, both before and since accreditation;
  • whether a Leader has worked with one other Leader, several Leaders, or is a lone or isolated Leader;
  • whether a Leader has moved often and has been part of many LLL Groups, or has been part of the same Group for many years;
  • whether a Leader has felt uncomfortable in any Group she has been part of;
  • whether a Leader was helped in her preparation for leadership by active, nurturing Leaders, or if she had little help as she prepared for leadership accreditation;
  • whether a Leader has attended educational and networking opportunities such as District Workshops; Chapter Meetings; Division/Affiliate or Area Conferences.

Each Leader has her own understanding of LLLI philosophy that has evolved from the factors mentioned above and her individual experience. The freedom to be an individual is a great strength and permits a diversity of lifestyles among people who share a common goal. This freedom helps Leaders demonstrate to mothers who attend LLL meetings that there is no one set way or pattern she must follow. It allows each mother the freedom to find her own way within the philosophy of LLLI.

However, this freedom, when combined with individuality, can lead to differences that can cause disagreement and conflict between Leaders.

When conflicts arise, Leaders need to give immediate attention to the situation. Putting it off, while tempting, can cause negative feelings to grow and make it more difficult to talk about feelings later on. Disagreements should be handled in a direct manner, by only the Leaders involved, discussing only the persons involved. It is important to use open and honest dialogue, avoiding accusations. Now is the time to practice the "I feel" messages learned in Human Relations Enrichment (HRE).

When Leaders disagree, they need to keep LLL goals foremost in their minds. Remember that all Leaders share the same goal of helping mothers breastfeed. It is important to the harmony of the Group not to involve Group members in disagreements between Leaders.

If you experience frequent disagreements with your co-Leaders, examine your expectations to see if they are realistic. It is unrealistic to believe that all Leaders should be best friends; that all Leaders should feel exactly the same about all points of LLLI philosophy; that Leaders should be "perfect"; that all Leaders should be able to devote the same amount of time and energy to LLL. If you find yourself struggling with these issues from time to time, try to remember that we are all different and it is these differences that allow us to help a wider variety of mothers.

Remember that conflict can be beneficial when it is handled constructively. By maintaining mutual respect and expressing empathy for each other's feelings, it is possible to overcome these differences and conflicts with a greater awareness of the other person's point of view, perhaps even broadening our own horizons.

If we make no effort to address conflict with our co-Leaders, we will be left with poor or broken relationships and frustrated or negative feelings that may surface elsewhere in our LLL work. By working together to resolve conflict, we will experience increased self- awareness and sensitivity to others as well as a tremendous feeling of triumph when we overcome obstacles to our effective functioning as LLL Leaders.

Your District Advisor or HRE Instructor can help with goal clarification and problem defining, as well as the development of an empathetic approach to problem solving.

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