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Helping Applicants Learn Telephone Helping Skills

Karin Gausman
Billings MT USA
From: LEAVEN, Vol. 38 No. 3, June-July 2002 pp. 54-55.

"I’m really nervous about helping mothers on the telephone. How will I ever remember everything?" Have you heard an Applicant express this concern? Helping mothers by telephone can be an important, challenging, rewarding aspect of LLL leadership. You can help an Applicant develop the necessary skills so that helping mothers by telephone can be effective and satisfying when she is accredited.

A good place to begin is by discussing Chapter 1 of the Leader’s Handbook, "Mother-to-Mother Help," with the Applicant. This chapter presents our philosophy of helping and gives ideas for the "mechanics" of responding to a mother. It talks about ways to learn and practice communication skills and about confidentiality. There is information about handling complicated calls, sorting out multiple concerns, how a Leader offers information instead of giving advice, and how to respond when the Leader’s suggestions differ from the doctor’s advice. The chapter suggests when and how to do any personal sharing, how to end a conversation, and how to do follow up. It also offers organizational tips, including keeping a Leader’s log and balancing family needs with LLL commitments. It also has material about "crank calls." That’s a lot of information! If it’s been a while since you have read that chapter, rereading it before talking with the Applicant could be a good idea.

As you discuss this chapter with the Applicant, refer to other resources that can add to what she is learning. You might talk about using references such as the Breastfeeding Answer Book and explain the "people resources" that are available to help a Leader, e.g., the Area Professional Liaison Leader. Show her Leaven’s regular column about helping mothers. You might loan her Leaven issues with useful articles about phone helping, such as "Avoiding the Advice Trap," August-September 2001.

Sometimes an Applicant feels nervous about how she will handle complicated, unusual, or emotionally challenging calls. If the Applicant has concerns about helping mothers who subscribe to a philosophy that conflicts with her own beliefs, she might read "Helping Mothers When You Have Strong Feelings about Their Choices," Leaven, December-January 1999. If an Applicant is worried about calls from mothers whose needs surpass her ability to help, she might read "When a Mother Needs More Than Support," Leaven, February-March 2001.

Role-play can be an excellent way to "try" phone helping before receiving actual calls from mothers. Does the idea of role-play cause you or the Applicant to feel uncomfortable? Consider these ideas from Nancy Spahr, LLLI Director, Leader Accreditation Department (LAD):

  • Try "scripted role-play" for your first experiences. This doesn’t mean you need to write out and/or memorize a dialogue. To prepare, simply make a few notes for you and the Applicant about the mother and her situation and how the "Leader" might respond. You might want to choose something basic and straightforward to begin with.
  • Begin by playing the role of "Leader" yourself. As the person with more experience, you can demonstrate important aspects of talking with mothers.
  • Ask the Leader Applicant if she would like to try the same situation, switching roles. As the Applicant becomes more comfortable with role-play, she might want to play the "Leader" in new and "unscripted" situations.
  • Feel free to stop your role-play at any time for the two of you to discuss your/her response.
  • Plan to do more role-play throughout the application, gradually adding more challenging situations. Not only will the Applicant learn, but you can also fine-tune your own skills.
  • Relax and have fun! You might even try some outlandish situations. Remind the Applicant that none of us has the "best" response all the time and that making "mistakes" can promote effective learning.

Some people find role-play easier if they aren’t looking at the other person. You might actually use the telephone or sit back-to-back. That can also allow the Applicant to practice responding without the benefit of seeing your facial expressions, helping her determine what the "mother" is asking by using listening skills only.

If you use the telephone, this can be a time for the Applicant to make sure she has easy access to resources, such as her Leader’s log, pen, and reference books. You might talk with her about various ways to organize those materials. Some Leaders keep everything in a box that can be toted to a place where they can keep an eye on children, using a cordless telephone or one with a long cord.

This could be a good time to discuss phone logs and page 14 of the 1998 Leader’s Handbook. You might also share with her the Leaven article on logging, "Your Leader’s Log," February-March 1999. Page 15 in the Handbook offers a sample Leader’s log page, which will give her an idea of the information Leaders record when giving phone help. She might use this form or devise one of her own (if appropriate). (Editor’s Note: Leaders in some Areas are restricted from developing a personal log because policies indicate otherwise.) You can show her what you use. She might fill out a phone log page for one or more of the helping situations.

Applicants often report that conducting Preview situations over the phone is a very helpful way for them to feel sure they are prepared for calls from mothers, and make sure they have necessary resources and supplies handy and provide an opportunity for them to plan for their children’s entertainment during helping calls. The Preview has recently been revised and includes a suggestion to use the situations throughout the application, if desired. The first section, Mothers’ Questions/Problems, lends itself well to practice during the application. Select one or more topics for each of your meetings to role-play and/or discuss. Chapter five of the Leader’s Handbook has ideas to help with this. It can also be interesting and educational for the Leaders and Applicants in your Group(s) to try one or more Group Dynamics/Management situations at a gathering such as a Chapter Meeting or workshop.

There are many ways you can help an Applicant learn about and practice Leader skills. When an Applicant gains the skills she needs to help mothers over the phone, she can begin her leadership career talking with mothers confidently, feeling satisfaction with this aspect of her work.

Karin Gausman, currently living in Billings, Montana, USA, has been a Leader for 27 years and is currently US Western Division Leader Accreditation Coordinator. She has a special interest in LAD orientation, and also enjoys corresponding with Applicants in many Areas in the US as well as India and the Philippines. "Preparing for Leadership"is edited by Deb Roberts, Contributing Editor. Articles may be submitted to Deb at 2327 Benjamin Street NE, Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA, or robertsd at tcfreenet.org (email).

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