Practicing Helping Skills


Linda Wieser, Nova Scotia, Canada

Special thanks to Karin Gausman author of the original article, “Helping Applicants Learn Telephone Helping Skills,” Leaven, June-July 2002.

“I’m really nervous about helping mothers on the telephone. How will I ever remember everything?” Have you heard an Applicant express this concern? Perhaps it is still a concern of yours? Yet one-to-one helping is one of many ways Leaders support mothers.

Communication skills

To help Applicants develop the skills for this type of support, start by discussing Chapter One, “Mother-to-Mother Help,” of the Leader’s Handbook. If it has been a while since you read this chapter, consider rereading it before meeting with the Applicant. The specific topics to cover are listed in the Checklist of Topics to Discuss in Preparation for LLL Leadership (Checklist). More than one Checklist is available.  The relevant sections are:

  1. For Applicants:Leader Applicant Web Pages
  2. For Leaders: Leader Accreditation Materials for LLL Leaders

These resources will give the Applicant an overview of the communication skills Leaders use to help mothers one-to-one. These include:

  • Establishing rapport
  • Listening carefully to the mother’s story
  • Responding non-judgmentally
  • Recognizing the mother as the expert on her baby
  • Respecting confidentiality
Organizational tips

It’s also helpful to share organizational tips, including: keeping a Leader’s log, balancing family needs with LLL commitments, using Medical Questionnaire forms, and organizing resources. Show the Applicant sample Leader’s log and Medical Questionnaire forms and discuss what information to gather.

Useful resources

As you discuss Chapter One of the Leader’s Handbook with the Applicant, refer to resources that can add to what she is learning, such as The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding, LLL tear-off sheets and pamphlets, and LLL websites. There are also several non-LLL websites that Leaders find helpful. Explain the “people resources” that are available to help Leaders, such as the Professional Liaison and Communication Skills departments. Remember to check the “giving advice versus offering suggestions” chart in “Part 3: Leadership Skills and Attitudes” of the Leader Applicant’s Resource Kit (LARK).


An opportunity for the Applicant to practice these skills will be helpful. It is part of the Preview of Mothers’ Questions/Problems and Group Dynamics/Management to practice responding to telephone helping calls. The Preview can be started at any time during the application.

The skills that are important for one-to-one helping include:

  • Giving empathetic responses
  • Listening before offering suggestions
  • Sorting out multiple concerns
  • Asking appropriate questions to gather more information
  • Sharing information rather than giving advice
  • Responding when the Leader’s suggestions differ from the doctor’s advice
  • Sharing what’s most important, not everything the Leader knows
  • Learning when and how to do personal sharing
  • Creating a follow-up plan
  • Filling out the Leader’s log.

Role playing can be an excellent way to “try” phone helping before receiving an actual call. Does the idea of role-play cause you or the Applicant to feel uncomfortable? If so, you are not alone. Some people find role playing easier if they aren’t looking at the other person. Call the Applicant or, if together, sit back-to-back. This can allow the Applicant to practice responding without the benefit of seeing your facial expressions or body language, 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 easily moved to a place where they can keep an eye on children. Other Leaders keep everything in one place and go to that spot to answer calls.

Consider using these options for making role playing of the Preview a fun learning experience:

  • Try “scripted role-play” for your first experiences. This practice can be flexible. You and the Applicant might draft the whole dialogue and read the script.  It is also fine to 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 with you playing the role of “Leader.” As the person with more experience, you can demonstrate important aspects of talking with mothers.
  • Switch roles for the same situation. As the Applicant becomes more comfortable with role-play, she might want to play the “Leader” in new and “unscripted” situations.
  • Stop role playing at any time to discuss the responses. Remind the Applicant that none of us has the “best” response all the time and that making “mistakes” can promote effective learning.
  • Practice specific skills. You are welcome to try different situations and focus on a specific skill, such as giving empathetic responses, until the Applicant feels confident.
  • Plan to do more role-play throughout the application. You might gradually add more challenging situations as the application progresses. Not only will the Applicant learn, but you can also fine-tune your own skills.
  • Relax and have fun! You might even try some made-up situations.

Applicants often report that practicing Preview situations over the phone is a very helpful way for them to feel prepared for future helping calls. It provides them with the opportunity to make sure they have the necessary resources and supplies handy and to plan for their children’s entertainment during helping calls.

Practicing these communication skills prior to accreditation allows the Applicant to feel confident about responding one-to-one, whether it is at a Series Meeting, on the telephone or during a video call.

Linda Wieser lives in Mahone Bay, Nova Scotia, Canada, with her husband, Jim. They have two grown-up daughters, one grandson (two years) and one granddaughter (four months). Linda has been a Leader since 1984. For many years she worked in the Professional Liaison Department as Area Professional Liaison for Michigan, USA, and then Atlantic Canada. In 2008, she became a member of the Leader Accreditation Department (LAD) and is currently the Administrator of Leader Accreditation for LLL Canada.  She is also the Contributing Editor of the LAD column “Preparing for Leadership” in Leader Today.