Dealing with Difficult Meetings

Annette Green, Modi’in, Israel

Does one mother tend to dominate your meetings? Annette shares tips to manage difficult meetings to make sure all mothers have space to share and be supported.

It’s a regular bi-monthly meeting of a local LLL Group. There are some familiar faces plus some mothers and babies who are new to the Group. Some mothers are breastfeeding while listening to the Leader make introductions. Ten minutes later, the mothers are feeling relaxed and comfortable and one mother asks if a specific food she is eating might be causing gassiness in her two-month-old fully breastfed baby. One regular mother launches into a description of six different ways she knows of to reduce gassiness in babies. Her tone of voice is authoritative and loud. Although her knowledge of the subject is comprehensive, she does not allow any opportunity for anyone else to contribute to the discussion.

When the discussion on gassiness finally ends and the topic moves to a new mother who is experiencing nipple soreness with her newborn’s latch, the same returning mother launches into a detailed reply about positioning, cushions and the shape of a baby’s lips while nursing. Other mothers are beginning to feel uncomfortable as the new mother is overwhelmed with information and no one else can interrupt the flow of information being shared.

Mothers who dominate meetings

A mother may dominate a meeting with her own problems or with sharing her own experiences or knowledge in a dominating way. Sometimes, women attend meetings because they want to promote a particular cause or their business. As Leaders we need to develop our communication skills to find a way to remind mothers of the purpose of a La Leche League meeting and still make sure they leave with a positive image of LLL.

Start each meeting with a reminder

One way to avoid situations like this is to start each meeting with a reminder about etiquette in LLL meetings. We can stress the importance of mother-to-mother support, and how we encourage sharing information from our own first hand experiences.

Focus on emotions first

Mothers who create difficult situations in meetings may also be in need of support themselves. Can you identify the underlying reason why she is acting this way? Perhaps she needs validation for her own choices that she has made as a mother or she is seeking approval. Can you find a way to acknowledge her experience and knowledge while also communicating that you want to make sure other mothers have a chance to share information and support in the meeting?

Use gentle reminders

Remind mothers about the difference between sharing information and giving advice. The way information is shared and mothers receive support in Series Meetings is very different from what happens in other frameworks. For many mothers their first experience of a LLL meeting can be emotional. Finally someone is helping them put into words how they feel and is acknowledging those emotions.

If one mother becomes too dominating in a meeting we can gently thank her for her contribution and ask if anyone else has anything else to share. You may even be able to invite a mother whose story you know to share her experience as a way of moving the focus to another person.

Statements that are not directed at a specific person are usually considered more gentle.

Use more direct reminders

If gentle and more general reminders are not working, you may need to directly address the mother and make it clear that you want to open the meeting to hear from others. Try to soften the statement by thanking her for the information she has shared or acknowledge her excitement or commitment before asking her to allow others to comment.

Use humor sparingly, if appropriate

Using humor might work in some situations to diffuse a situation. The Leader Handbook reminds us:

“Responding to Contrary Information” Leader Handbook, p. 44

This approach [using humor] may not be suitable for everyone but might work in some situations. It is never appropriate to direct humor at a participant, present or not.

Discuss and brainstorm

If you have co-Leaders, meet to discuss how you can deal with this situation creatively in the future. As with any situation, the more ideas and angles you can get the better. Sometimes there is one Leader who is better at dealing with difficult situations due to her personality or professional experience and she might be the right person for helping in this situation.

Brainstorm as many ideas as you can, including the incredible ones and the ones that have you laughing like crazy and rolling on the floor. Humor and laughter can lighten the situation amongst Leaders and allow you to see the situation from a more relaxed point of view.

Choose a private conversation

If it is happening repeatedly with the same mother, have a private conversation with her. This could take place immediately after the meeting or if the meeting has been particularly difficult, you may choose to wait a few days and then phone her. You could start by asking the mother what her experience was at the meeting and how she felt. Once you have heard and acknowledged her feelings using reflective listening, you could share your feelings and how you want the meetings to be in the future.

Create “secret” signals

Sometimes people who overshare or dominate are aware of their behavior but feel powerless to stop when they are in overload mode. If the mother admits that she felt like she talked too much, you could thank her for acknowledging this and ask if there is a way you could help her in the future. You might share that some couples use secret signals to indicate when to tone things down if “overload mode” happens in public. If the mother is willing to improve her communication skills, you could explore finding a “secret” signal to help her during the meeting such as answering her directly and saying “thank you” when you notice this happening.

Get support from co-Leaders and your DC or ACL if necessary

If you are dealing with a situation involving a mother who is returning to meetings and behaving in a way which is making other mothers feel uncomfortable and perhaps also making it difficult for you to successfully run the meetings, consider contacting your District Coordinator (DC) or Area Coordinator of Leaders (ACL) in order to receive one-to-one support specific to your situation.

Invite her to a Communication Skills Workshop

Communication Skills Workshops (CSW) are not just for Leaders. Mothers who participate can learn about active listening and improving communication skills for use in their families and other personal interactions. Participating in a CSW can improve our awareness of when we are talking too much, not listening properly and just waiting for a break in the conversation in order to share our opinion. Promoting the workshop to all mothers in the Group prevents the mother from feeling that she has been singled out. However, if she doesn’t sign up at a meeting, you could follow up with a phone call asking if she would like to participate.

Check what buttons are being pushed

A Leader might want to consider what it is about a specific mother that bothers her and identify her own feelings. Do you feel like your authority as a Leader is being challenged? Does this person make you feel unsure of yourself and the information you have to share with mothers? Sometimes when we can identify why we feel bothered, we can find a way to overcome the challenge in a non-confrontational way.

It gets easier

As you become more experienced at leading your Group, your confidence will grow in dealing with difficult situations. Establishing mental boundaries of what is acceptable and unacceptable behavior in a Group will also make it easier to maintain those boundaries.

Doing nothing

Sometimes taking no action becomes the default position because most of us do not like dealing with conflict. However, before you choose to ignore the issue and not take action, remember that if you actively choose to ignore the issue, there may be longer-term ramifications.

Put yourself in the position of the other mothers in the Group and think about whether they will want to continue to participate in meetings that are not well managed. Remind yourself that you have to think about the Group as a whole. What is in the best interests of everyone for this meeting and for future meetings? Will choosing to not take action threaten the long term attendance of the Group?

To make the situation even more complicated what if this troublesome mother has shown interest in applying for leadership? The above suggestions are all relevant especially the private conversation. Your Coordinator of Leader Accreditation can help with ideas and suggestions for dialoguing with the mother about the role and expectations of Leaders.

If after trying all the tips above a mother is still dominating meetings, contact your Area Coordinator of Leaders for support and further suggestions.

Annette Green was born and raised in Australia but moved to Israel 20 years ago. She has two daughters and has been a Leader since 2004. Currently, she is a lone Leader of a Group in Modi’in, Israel. She is the co-Associate Area Coordinator of Leaders (AACL) in Israel and a member of the GLC (Global Leaders Committee). Annette has her own holistic health clinic helping women with fertility, pregnancy and menopause challenges.