September 28, 2023

The Role of Story-Telling in a Mentoring Session

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During a mentoring session, a mentor’s main role is to listen actively, ask probing questions and affirm their mentee. The purpose of this time is to help the mentee know themselves better; therefore, it’s not the general practice to tell stories or talk about themselves much at all. However, the occasional personal story, a wise narrative or a metaphor may be helpful to a mentee who’s feeling confused or alone in a particular situation. 

There are many benefits that can come from sharing the right sort of stories: 

  • Sharing small pieces about yourself can help to build trust and connection between yourself and your mentee. It offers you a chance to be vulnerable, which can also help others feel more comfortable being vulnerable. 
  • Sometimes a story, especially an allegory or a metaphor can help make a clear point. Jesus used his ability to tell stories to help thousands of people and present wisdom in a way that was easy to understand and memorable. 
  • A story can elicit feelings that sometimes an outright statement can’t. Stories trigger empathy and allow for a perspective outside of one’s self. Stories can also be a way to lighten the tension if you realize your conversation has become needlessly heavy and painful. 
  • Story-telling is a creative way to catalyze self-reflection. This can help guide mentees to honestly look at themselves, embrace who they really are and what needs to change in order to move in a healthy direction.

I recently found it appropriate to share some of my own experience with burnout. I was talking to a mentee who was dealing with severe burnout while being sidelined at work. He was feeling lonely, angry, rejected and like a failure. I wanted him to know that during my burnout, I had also been rejected by those I trusted, and cut off from work and people whom I had sacrificed so much for. To encourage him to see the process of recovery as a journey to health. I had learned that it takes time to resolve anger, let the pain go, to forgive. I had first-hand experience that it could be done, and that there was light at the end of the tunnel. 

Here are a few things to keep in mind when working a provocative narrative, story or metaphor into your session:

  • There should be a purpose for sharing your story; it shouldn’t be just because you want to tell it. 
  • This is not a time for details. Focus on what really matters in your story. 
  • Know what response you hope it will elicit in your mentee. 
  • Know when to share. Even a helpful story won’t help if you are interrupting, or dramatically shifting the tone of the conversation. 
  • Be wary of trauma dumping. You may want to share that you experienced a similar thing as your mentee but if there isn’t something valuable they can take away from what you are saying, you are only adding your trauma to theirs. 
  • Always bring it back to your mentee when you are finished sharing. 
  • Always ask will this help them to self-reflect? Will this story be catalytic?

Who can help you develop your mentoring/supervision competencies? Can we help? Get in touch with us, take the Mentor Q competency assessment 

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