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When the Answer Is "No"

Trudy Hartt
Beaconsfield, Quebec, Canada
Nancy Spahr
Peru, Indiana USA
From: LEAVEN, Vol. 36 No. 2, April-May 2000, pp. 26-27.

A mother in your Group wants to apply for LLL leadership. You've observed her and listened to what she says at meetings, and you have some doubts or reservations. Following the steps in the "Leader's Guide: In Preparation for an Application" from the LLLI Application Packet, you discuss a Leader's role, LLLI philosophy, and her experience. You use the "LLLI Prerequisites to Applying for Leadership Guidelines for Leaders" (also in the Application Packet) to help structure your discussion. In the end, you just can't picture her as a Leader. What do you do? How can you tell her? Is there a way that this could result in a positive outcome for both the mother and La Leche League?

Let's consider what you can do.

First, as a La Leche League Leader, you will want to work in an ongoing fashion to create and support a climate of honesty and respect. You can do this by:

  • Working to make your Group a place where every mother appreciates her value as a breastfeeding helper.

    As the Leader, you are responsible for managing the Group, holding meetings, and facilitating discussions. Your goal is to provide breastfeeding and mothering information, ideas, and peer support. Peer support is something that mothers can do for each other! A mother who understands and appreciates that she has a vital role in the Group will be more likely to continue attending and contributing to meetings.

  • Fostering a respectful, accepting atmosphere where mothers are comfortable to ask questions about and experiment with the ideas they hear.

    Mothers who feel accepted and respected will be able to discuss feelings that accompany questions such as, "What would happen if I weaned tomorrow?" or "I'd do anything to make this baby sleep through the night!" They may also be comfortable exploring the idea of being a Leader, without expectations attached.

  • Leading meetings and communicating with mothers.

    Talk and share information with mothers rather than telling them what they should do. In this way, whether you are talking about mothering or LLL leadership, you present yourself as a source of information, encouragement, and support rather than a judge.

  • Conveying warmth and friendliness while presenting LLL leadership as a job that requires certain qualifications, experience, attitudes, and abilities which are set forth in the prerequisites and criteria for accreditation.

    Mothers will see this in the way you lead meetings, manage the Group, and further your education.

  • Making it clear that it is a Leader's responsibility to present LLL information and represent LLLI philosophy.

    Mothers who attend meetings need to know that, whatever direction the discussion takes, the Leader makes sure that LLL information is part of the discussion. Understanding that a Leader speaks for LLL and provides a personal example of LLLI philosophy in action can help mothers consider whether leadership would feel comfortable to them.

    Second, when you are talking with a mother one-on-one about LLL leadership, you can ensure a positive outcome by keeping some ideas in mind.

  • Talk with the mother about her personal goals and explore with her the variety of options that could help her reach them.

    For example, a woman who wants to help mothers breastfeed could do so as an active LLL Group member, a breastfeeding advocate and supporter in her community, a peer counselor, a sponsor for a Breastfeeding Resource Center, a lactation consultant, or an LLL Leader. Which might fit best with her interests, qualifications, personal philosophy, and abilities?

  • Affirm the mother's desire to help other mothers.

    Point out to her how her qualities, talents, and skills make her a valued Group participant who already helps to further LLLI's mission and her personal goal of helping mothers breastfeed. Explore with her other ways to do this, depending on her interests and skills. She might want to help keep the meeting discussion on track; she might want to organize a fund raiser or take on a Group job to help the mothers of the Group find the information they need. She may also want to help make plans or set goals for the Group at Evaluation Meetings.

  • Be honest and open if you find you need to say "no."

    Actively involving the mother and using your references can help avoid hurt feelings and misunderstandings.

  • Make sure that your discussion with the mother is a dialogue, an exchange of information, ideas, and opinions, rather than a "verdict."

    Invite her reactions to your observations. Ask for her assessment. You may wish to word your inquiry as, "Do you see how the difference between what an LLL Leader would be expected to suggest and what your experiences were could affect your effectiveness as an LLL Leader?" This will assure her that you are listening to her and can potentially help the two of you come to an agreement on what the best decision is for both the mother and LLL.

  • You may need to explain aspects of LLLI philosophy.

    Refer to and use THE WOMANLY ART OF BREASTFEEDING to provide clarification and examples.

    Remind the mother that an LLL Group provides a wide range of experiences and information for mothers; some come from the Leaders, and more are shared by the mothers. What the mother has to say, that she could not say as a Leader, may be of more help to another mother than a Leader's information.

  • If relevant and appropriate, talk about the likely consequences when words and actions give different messages.

    The action message will be the stronger, with the result that a Leader could lose credibility. This kind of conflict in messages reflects poorly on LLL and LLL information. On the other hand, when actions and words give the same message, the message and the person giving it are given more credibility. When an experienced member talks about her experience or solution to a problem and the action and verbal messages agree, she provides interesting and potentially useful information, and encourages others to share their knowledge too.

  • With her help, identify the mother's feelings.

    They may include disappointment, sadness, anger, indignation, or a combination of emotions. Acknowledge her feelings, and respond with empathy.

  • Avoid getting side-tracked to other issues such as personalities, what others have said or done, or what LLL's role "should be" in the breastfeeding community.

    Rather, use LLLI resources including Appendix 18 of the PSR; THE WOMANLY ART OF BREASTFEEDING; and the LEADER'S HANDBOOK. Focus on facts and LLL's expectations for Leaders.

    This kind of meeting is usually not easy. You can make it more positive by preparing your approach and planning what you will say. Some specific suggestions may help you with your preparations.

  • Start with your thoughts clearly developed.

    Are you sure you can't support the application, or are you almost sure? What information do you have? Is there some information you still need from the mother? Are you presenting a decision or an almost-decision? If you're not sure, you need to gather more information - from the mother or a Leader Accreditation Department (LAD) representative - before holding this meeting. Being certain can help you speak articulately, with confidence and conviction.

  • Set a time to meet with the mother as soon as possible.

    Waiting can increase anxiety - yours and hers. You might try to see this meeting as a bridge from your discussions about LLL leadership to your renewed working relationship with the mother.

  • Have your references handy, including Appendix 18 and notes from your earlier discussions with the mother.

    They provide an objective measure of support for your assessment, as well as being a tangible reference. They can also provide the common ground of information you both need.

  • Come with a plan to give you a starting point for your discussion and a place to return if you should get off on a tangent.

    You can also be ready to change your plan if appropriate. Explain the plan; ask the mother if it looks satisfactory to her or if she would like to do something different. Be open to her suggestions.

  • You might start by summarizing your last discussion.

    Check the summary together: is it accurate? is it fair? Say what your assessment is and why. Be ready to go over the same material if the mother seems to have misunderstood something, if she thinks you misunderstood, or if she denies the importance. Be ready to hear something new and different and to therefore reassess and come to a different conclusion. If you need time to think, take a break. If you need to ask more questions, do so. You might need to say: "I thought I had all the information I needed. What you tell me changes things ..."; "I'm just not sure it changes the outcome - I'm a little confused now"; "I need time to think" or "I need to ask you about ..." or "I need to consult with ..."

  • Throughout, be prepared to stop to check emotions and perceptions.

    Some of these phrases might be helpful:

    "How do you feel about that?"

    "It looks like that caught you by surprise. Were you expecting something else? Tell me what you were expecting."

    "I sense I've upset you. Have I? If that's the case, it wasn't my intention. Can we go back over what we've just said so I can say what I mean?"

    "When you said ___ I had the impression you were feeling ____. If so, I'd like to understand what led to that. Is it something I've said or done?"

  • Use active listening and leave time for yourself and the mother to think and respond.

    Silence can also diffuse emotion by allowing us to feel there's acceptance and respect in the conversation. It can remove a sense of being pushed to say something specific, or to think a certain way.

  • Throughout, invite the mother's reactions to or comments on what you've said. "Does that sound accurate?"

    "Did I hear you right?" "Is that a fair assessment?"

  • Be honest and straightforward: Use "I" messages to keep the emphasis on your assessment rather than criticizing.

    You could refer to the objective standard by stating: "It's my job as a Leader to implement the policies on accreditation. That means recommending according to the prerequisites you see here (Appendix 18). I don't believe you meet the prerequisites." You could offer to consult with a LAD representative or, if you already have, tell her who you consulted with and what the outcome was.

  • Acknowledge and affirm the mother's desire to help other breastfeeding mothers.

    Identify this as her goal. Express your willingness to help her achieve her goal. This emphasizes your common interest. You can review the different ways women can help breastfeeding mothers and describe the differences in requirements, training, and time commitment. What sounds attractive and attainable? How can you help her? How can you help her achieve her goal within LLL as a strong core Group member?

  • Tell the mother about the appeals process.

    Since each situation is different, you may want to ask a LAD representative for more specific suggestions. A Human Relations Enrichment Instructor (HREI) may be able to help you choose helpful language and statements. To discover what could be the most effective way to develop your skills and confidence, you might want to practice with your co-Leader or a LAD representative. When you meet with the mother, take your notes, resources, and a hopeful, optimistic attitude with you. Follow your plan, being open to modifying it as necessary or appropriate as your conversation unfolds. Remember that your honest, sincere, respectful, caring attitude can be the most important factor in the discussion.

    The majority of mothers who are interested in becoming LLL Leaders do meet the prerequisites. We don't have much experience with having to say, "I cannot recommend you," so we may feel unsure and unprepared to do so. If you have experienced a positive outcome after talking with a mother who did not meet prerequisites, please let the Leader Accreditation Department know what you found most helpful. Your positive experience will help other Leaders as they talk with mothers about leadership.

Additional Resources

"Leader's Guide: In Preparation for an Application" Leader Application Packet, LLLI 485-22.

"LLLI Prerequisites to Applying for Leadership -- Guidelines for Leaders" Leader Application Packet, LLLI 485-22.

"Helping Mothers Become Leaders" LEADER'S HANDBOOK, LLLI Rev. ed. 1998, Chapter 5, pp 225-44.

LLLI Policies and Standing Rules Appendix 18.


LLLI Policies and Standing Rules, Appendix 38, LLL Leader Accreditation, Appeals, Policies, and Process.

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