November 2, 2023

Discovering What Is Left Unsaid

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How many times have you been in a mentoring session and you can sense there is something important being left unsaid by your mentee? Every person has some feelings or memories that they don’t like to talk about. However, these are often the things that are the most important to discuss, and a mentoring session should be a safe place to talk about these uncomfortable or scary parts of life. In fact, many people come to a mentor in order to explore these deeper parts of the self, but even then, it can take some encouragement. 

Why Do We Hide Parts of Ourselves?

There are so many reasons a person might lie, tell part-truths or avoid certain topics. Every day, we all have to choose what information to disclose to the people around us, and we often present only what is comfortable or pleasant or whatever we think others want to hear. For example, when the barista asks, ‘How are you doing?’ most people reply intuitively, ‘I’m good,’ even if they are having a terrible day. This can be because we think others don’t care about the truth or that it is impolite to bring it up. We could also be embarrassed to be in certain situations or have certain feelings. 

Shame is a huge reason we hide, going all the way back to Adam and Eve. When faced with their mistake, they hid from God. We are worried that if other people see our most vulnerable flaws, then the way they see and love us will change. 

Even the most honest people will hide certain facts. Sometimes it is purposeful, but just as often, they are unaware they are avoiding something. People are so used to omitting or glossing over certain parts of their lives that it can be hard to stop… even in a mentoring session when they know they are supposed to be their most honest. At this point, it becomes part of a mentor’s job to gently and kindly attempt to elicit this information. 

Here are some things to keep in mind when drawing out hidden facts:

  • Pay attention to nonverbal clues. Is your mentee fidgeting and distracted? Do they seem tired and unfocused? Are they more defensive than usual? Ask yourself why that might be… what else is happening in their life? 
  • Assume there could be context you don’t know. Even if we are very close with a mentee and have worked with them for years, there may be things at play we are not aware of. Maybe they had a flat tyre on their way to the appointment, a change in medication or their cultural background in affecting how much they chose to relay.
  • Call it out. Sometimes all it takes is you sharing your observations. You might say, “I notice you seem distracted… Do you know why that might be?” Asking questions is often the easier way to draw out information.
  • Use wisdom. Know when to elicit facts and when to be patient. Pushing too hard before your mentee is ready to be honest can cause them to become defensive or close up. 
  • Remind them the reason they are there. The reason most people seek out a mentor is to explore these hidden facts. You can remind them that your job as a mentor is to guide this journey of the self, and you are not here to judge. 

I’d like to end on a lighter note. I was working with a preacher who told me this story. He was speaking to his congregation and a man in the front row had the strangest expression on his face. As the preacher was speaking the man would screw up his face and wince at some of his words. The preacher began to worry that he was offending the man in some way. After the sermon he approached the man to ask if he was all right and if he needed to share anything. The man laughed. His expression had nothing to do with the sermon; it was because there was a baby with a stinky nappy in the row behind him! 

This is a funny reminder that there are layers of context going on that we know nothing about. Instead of assuming we know what is going on… follow these tips to uncover the truth! 

Some questions to ask your mentee: 

  • Is there anything you want to share but haven’t yet?
  • Is there anything difficult you are avoiding?
  • Is there something you are processing that you might not be ready to talk about yet? 

Can we help you find a quality mentor? Do you need to have a confidential conversation on something that is difficult to talk about? Reach out 

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