BC Guide - Group Dynamics and Facilitating Discussion

All Community Chapter meetings must be facilitated by a Breastfeeding Counselor who can provide evidence-based information from Breastfeeding USA resources. An effective facilitator will also ensure that the meeting discussion proceeds in a way that attendees benefit from the mother-to-mother support of the group. Often, in a well-planned meeting, the discussion will naturally unfold in a supportive fashion. Sometimes the BC will need to use different techniques to spur conversation, allow for a variety of opinions and experiences, and possibly even redirect conversation for the benefit of all the attendees.

Positive Discussion

For attendees to feel supported in the meeting, the discussion should be positive and accepting. In her welcoming remarks that open the meeting, the Breastfeeding Counselor can set the expectations about the discussion, asking the participants to share from their own experiences and be respectful of others’ remarks. Since breastfeeding is not the cultural norm in most areas of the country, some participants may be surprised by some of the information presented. The BC can acknowledge this cultural bias and suggest that participants listen respectfully to all the viewpoints, even if they do not feel that the suggestions would apply to their situation. The goal is for all attendees to feel comfortable sharing their experiences, opinions, and questions.

Stimulating Discussion

Sometimes, even in an engaged group setting, the conversation lags. Breastfeeding Counselors can be prepared for pauses in the discussion with some questions or facts relating to the meeting topic that can re-energize the discussion. Open-ended questions are much better for stimulating conversation than questions with a yes or no answer. If the Community Chapter has some regular attendees who are comfortable sharing their experiences, the BC can ask them a direct question to get the topic started. Often this sharing will encourage newcomers to join the discussion as well.

Encouraging Non-participants

Not every meeting attendee feels comfortable sharing in a group setting. To encourage participation from everyone in the group, the Breastfeeding Counselor can plan a meeting in which each attendee gets to read a fact or question. The item can be written on a slip of paper, an index card, or a visual aid that relates to the meeting topic. (For example, a fall meeting on family nutrition could have facts written on apple cutouts.) Another way to hear from all attendees is to ask questions round-robin style, where each participant around the room answers in turn, which works particularly well in smaller group settings.

In a larger meeting with less structure, the Breastfeeding Counselor should observe the attendees during the discussion. If the BC notices an individual who hasn’t participated, she can gently ask that person if he or she would be comfortable sharing something about a specific topic. However, Breastfeeding Counselors should be respectful of the mother who has come to listen and absorb. Introverts may need a second or even third meeting in order to feel comfortable talking in front of a group. A mother who is not a native English speaker may also be reluctant to speak in front of the other attendees.

Redirecting Discussion

The best mother-to-mother support usually happens when there is a balance of ideas and perspectives, and all participants are engaged in the conversation. Unfortunately, sometimes one person can monopolize the discussion, stifling other participation. If one individual in the meeting is talking too much, the Breastfeeding Counselor can specifically redirect questions to others in the group. If the mother is expressing an opinion or experience that is in conflict with evidence-based information, the BC may want to acknowledge the mother’s experience and then share current findings with the group.

An individual who is monopolizing the conversation may be intensely emotional about the subject. If her topic or concern is relevant to many in the group, it can be helpful to work through the issue in the main meeting. However, if focusing on that person’s issue detracts from the needs of the other attendees, the BC may need to acknowledge the individual’s emotions, and ask that the concern be discussed privately after the meeting. Individual follow-up often provides more opportunity to address the person’s particular needs, and allows the meeting to proceed on topic for everyone.

Community Chapter meetings should be focused on the Breastfeeding USA mission to provide breastfeeding information and support. Discussion of other causes or business promotion detracts from that purpose. If conversation digresses from breastfeeding concerns, the Breastfeeding Counselor should redirect the conversation back on topic. Participants can be encouraged to share off-topic information after the formal part of the meeting.