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Good Dialogues Aren’t Just for Helping Calls

Debbie Hanson
Rockford IL USA
From: LEAVEN, Vol. 40 No. 1, February-March 2004, p. 15.

Applicants put a lot of effort into honing their listening skills. We learn how to listen to the mothers who call us for help. We learn to listen past the words to the often hidden meanings. We learn to ask questions for clarification. We learn how to determine if the problem is within the range of mother-to-mother help. We learn how to give information, not advice. We learn how to hide our disappointment when we have invested a lot of time and energy in helping a mother and baby who take a different road than the one we would have chosen for ourselves. We learn how to value the differences in people and families and realize that the diversity makes our organization stronger. We learn all of these things and more as we train to become accredited La Leche League Leaders.

Then we become accredited. We hold the title of La Leche League Leader. We’re trained and ready to go, right? Now the Group is one big happy family, celebrating its new addition, right? Not always. Perhaps it is similar to what some couples engaged to be married go through. Hours are spent choosing just the right wedding invitation, the perfect wedding dress, and how many courses of food to be served at the reception, who can and can’t sit together at the reception, and where the honeymoon should be. Sometimes, not enough time is spent talking about how to make the marriage work after the couple says "I do."

The application process helps develop skills that will assist the Applicant in being a prepared Leader. It should also be a time when the dynamics of the Group are reevaluated. (Reevaluation is something that all Groups should do from time to time regardless of whether or not they are working with an Applicant.)

With change comes the potential for conflict. With Leaders from all walks of life, there will be conflict. It’s been said that conflict, in and of itself, is healthy. It is how we choose to deal with the conflict that is either positive or negative. We need to respect our co-Leaders and ourselves enough to choose a positive path to conflict resolution. Remember all of the listening skills that we learned to use in communicating with mothers? They should also be used when talking with one’s co-Leader(s). If Leaders do not experience some degree of disagreement or conflict (however small) while working with each other, then most likely there are problems in basic Leader communication.

What we need to keep in the forefront of all discussions is that our focus should be helping mothers breastfeed their babies. There are many ways to fulfill that goal. The ways our co-Leaders would choose may not be the ways we would choose. But through respectful communication between all parties, a deeper appreciation of all sides can result. The Leader’s Handbook (2003 edition, page 89) recognizes that our very strength (diversity) can also be a weakness (lead to conflict). This passage contains very direct steps in how to work through disagreements:

  • Give the disagreement or conflict immediate attention; postponement can intensify negative feelings.
  • Handle any disagreement in a direct manner. Discuss it only with those involved, not with other Leaders or Group members.
  • Listen carefully and consider other viewpoints. Avoid assumptions; inquire for further understanding.
  • Use respectful dialogue, avoiding accusations. Use "I" messages ("I feel…when…") to explain your understanding and viewpoint. Be open and willing to change your mind if you receive new/different information.
  • Together, look for solutions that will enable you to satisfy your individual and mutual goals.
  • When a conflict is resolved, put it in the past and move on.

Remember that assistance is always available through your support Leader and the Communications Skills Department. Don’t be afraid to ask for assistance. As Leaders, we routinely call on support Leaders to help with difficult breastfeeding situations. Creating/maintaining a healthy working relationship with your co-Leaders should hold the same importance.

The passage in the Leader’s Handbook (2003 edition, page 89), concludes by stating:

You may or may not be interested in developing friendships with Group workers and other Leaders. Keep in mind that women with different lifestyles, values, and expectations can work productively together to help other mothers; friendship is not necessary to a respectful, effective working relationship.

As Leaders, don’t we prefer to help a mother who has sore nipples before they become blistered and cracked? Through regular discussions with your co-Leaders (Leader’s Meetings, for example) many conflicts can be resolved before they become insurmountable.

Debbie Hanson is a Leader with the morning Group of La Leche League of Rockford, Illinois, USA, and is the District Advisor for Illinois District Metro 5. Nan Vollette is the Contributing Editor for the "Helping Mothers" column.

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