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Listening Skills

Sheri Khan
Maria Rita Inglieri
Rome Italy
From: LEAVEN, Vol. 39 No. 3, June-July 2003, p. 65.

"Listening" is a word that takes on a new meaning when a mother becomes a Leader. Some people understand and put into practice good listening skills more easily than others. Some Applicants change visibly in this regard as soon as they begin their applications. They begin to "think like a Leader" and adjust their communication styles accordingly. Other Applicants, however, may continue to participate in meetings in much the same way as they did before. Sometimes a Leader will worry that an Applicant has still not made the transition from interested mother to Leader orientation because she continues to interrupt, not listening to others when she participates in LLL Group and Leader Applicant meetings. How can Leaders help to facilitate this move? How can we help a mother to understand the importance of listening and being listened to?

The Group we lead with has several Leader Applicants and prospective Applicants, so we decided to do a series of enrichment meetings on the topic of listening. At the first meeting we looked at the topic from a personal point of view. We went around in a circle asking the women present to speak about how it felt to not be listened to, and then, in a second round, asking how it felt to be listened to, encouraging people to think of specific instances that had occurred in the recent past. It was really interesting: the examples people came up with were varied, but the feelings of anger and frustration were very similar when they felt they hadn’t been listened to. It was also surprising that no one had to go further back than a week to find examples. This brought home to all the importance of listening—a simple, and frequently unused, skill.

At the second meeting we discussed listening when we answer telephone calls. We spoke about listening to understand the real question, when to ask questions and when to give information, using several examples of calls (without identifying information) that we’d had in the last couple of months. In our first example, a mother calls and asks for pumping information because she is leaving her three-month-old to go off for a week with her husband. Using this example and others we discussed the following:

  • How do you listen to a mother who says that?
  • What do you tell her?
  • Do you give her the information she has requested and hang up, or can you say something else?
  • Can you tell her she shouldn’t do it?
  • Is there anything that the Leader is obliged to communicate?

The meeting produced some strong and unexpected reactions, both regarding our role as Leaders and personal feelings about respect for the ideas and opinions of others in all situations.

Editor’s note: The Leader Accreditation Department offers a bias exercise, which helps Applicants think about which topics provoke strong reactions for them. Awareness of these topics helps the Applicant to consider and plan how she might react and communicate in a respectful way, opening up the lines of communication.

The third meeting was dedicated to yet another aspect of listening to mothers: questions of ethics and responsibility. We asked the participants the following three questions:

  • When a Leader listens to a mother, what are her responsibilities?
  • What does professional behavior entail?
  • How can we ensure that we present a positive picture of LLL?

The discussion included the following issues (others may come up for you):

  • Respect for the mother’s choices;
  • Respect for confidentiality (for example, with whom can we communicate regarding the information that the mother has given us and how?);
  • Referring the mother to health care professionals;
  • Helping the mother to dialogue with her health care professional;
  • Other ethical issues (for example, when the mother’s doctor gives her inaccurate information, how can we communicate this to her?).

We had a very interesting discussion on how to listen, including understanding what the mother wanted and sharing information that was useful to her. A lot of the discussion centered around helping the mother to communicate with her doctor, and we used the article "Coaching for More Effective Communication with Your Doctor" by Pat Kufeldt, Leaven, October-November 2000, which can be found on the LLLI Web site at

Sheri Khan has been a Leader for 18 years and is Coordinator for Leader Accreditation for Italy and editor of their member's newsletter, Da mamma a mamma. She has three sons, Irfan (20), Irshad (18), and Kamaal (9). Maria Rita Inglieri has been Sheri’s co-Leader for the Central Rome Group since she was accredited just over a year ago. She has two sons, Andrea (4) and Giovanni (1). Deb Roberts is the Contributing Editor for this column..

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