As a mentor seeking to build relational bonds, you will find that the ability to balance your personal information and vulnerabilities and your professional demeanor is crucial. If you over-share your anecdotes, your flaws and personal issues, you may find yourself making a friend instead of a mentee, and the boundaries between you both will become blurred and dangerous. On the other hand, failing to share any vulnerabilities or aspects of yourself will automatically keep your mentee at a distance, as they find you difficult to relate to, and doubt your ability to understand their own issues.
This balancing act is a tricky one. What is appropriate or not appropriate? There are a few personal details about myself that I find important to share with mentees; I often tell them at some point and my burnout, or how I found writing letters to apologize for my behavior during burnout an important experience. I’ve found that this little bit of vulnerability helps my mentees see that I am being transparent and coming from a place of understanding rather than condemnation. This allows them to feel more comfortable opening up to their own vulnerabilities.
I wish there was a simple set of rules to follow, but over the course of my time as a mentor, I’ve seen that it usually comes down to personal judgment.
However, here are a few tips that I’ve found helpful:
- Don’t monologue. Share what needs to be shared, but remember this time isn’t about you. Keep your stories short and simple and end with questions that will turn it back to your mentor.
- Ask yourself why you want to share your personal experience; is it simply because you are excited to share about yourself? Is it for your own sake? Or is it a story you truly could provide some comfort to your mentee? There are moments mentees need to hear “I’ve been through that… and you’ll get through it too.”
- Use your own experiences and vulnerabilities as a way to help your mentee reflect on themselves. Emphasize how you learned as much as what you learned, as a way to invite them to reflect and consider how they could grow from their struggle on their own.
- Where did I show vulnerability this week with my mentee?
- Where did I refrain from showing vulnerability this week with my mentee?
- Who can I talk to about my professional/vulnerable balance in my work that will share honest feedback?
What happens next?
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