She sat across from me, twirling her tea bag. A high-stress job, insecurity in her marriage and lack of social outlets created a perfect storm of anxiety and fear. Sentences emerged haltingly, tears remained on the rims of her eyes. I asked a few gentle questions attempting to elicit the story she was trying to tell. After a lengthy pause, she finally said it: “I’m just so tired.” There it was. The bottom line. The truth she didn’t want to say. Her entire body uttered it – the quiver of her voice, the slump of her upper body, the drop of her head and hands.
I moved close and just held her. She sobbed on my shoulder and all I said was, “Of course you are. I know. It’s okay.”
For my mentee that day, she didn’t need wisdom or advice, she needed to be able to say what she had bottled up – that though she was a high-achiever and had been faithfully meeting the needs of everyone in her various circles, she wasn’t Superwoman. She could crack….and she was. Admitting that took vulnerability. I was proud of her and honored to be able to receive it.
Creating a space of safety and acceptance can be one of the most loving acts you can do for another. But how is that done? Here are five best-practices for shaping a relationship in which your mentee feels secure:
Lean on the Holy Spirit
Before walking into the coffee shop, I often ask the Holy Spirit to lead the conversation –
not just guide it, but lead it. Give me every word. This acknowledges two things: that He
is in charge of this time, not you, and that He knows what to say better than you do. This
woman’s needs for this very day are known to Him. He can use you to bless her because
He knows what she needs to hear and experience from you today. Don’t get in His way.
Make your ears and spirit tender for how He wants to accomplish loving her today
You’re There for Her, Not You
It can be so tempting to share about your own life and get caught up in the usual banter
that two women can enjoy. Though some initial back-and-forth is important, it’s up to
you to guide the conversation to what she has on her heart that day. You may even ask
her if she needs a pleasant distraction and wants to steer away from heavier topics or if
she wants to share a burden. Either way, this time is for and about her.
Talk Less, Listen More
When we’re engaging with another woman over our favorite brew, it’s tempting to jump
in and share stories of when something similar happened to us. Maybe something she
said reminded you of a memory that you hadn’t recalled in a very long time. Don’t share
it, though. This isn’t the time for that. Perhaps one example can help you emphasize a
point you want to make, but your primary role here is to listen. That’s it.
Affirm and Assure
One of the roles of a mentor is to uphold and support this precious woman. Make it very
clear right from the beginning that you are in her corner. Don’t play Devil’s Advocate,
don’t point out another’s person’s point of view…demonstrate that you are on her side.
This doesn’t mean that you have to endorse wrong or harmful behavior; but it does mean
that you are here to help her work things out and sometimes just supporting someone
allows them to think more clearly about their issue. Allow her to cry or lament, if she needs to. Assure her of your commitment to encourage her and not judge her. When she feels safe to be real with you, your relationship is forged.
Be a Vault
Before you begin talking and after you’ve heard her story, assure her that what she’s said will not be shared. You won’t even tell your husband. This is a relationship of three – you, her and the Holy Spirit. Since most women share sensitive stories, it’s up to you to respect that and keep everything she says in the vault of strict confidence.
Being a mentor is a privilege. Following these five steps won’t guarantee success but will go a long way in becoming effective. No matter how long you meet with your mentee, your time with her will leave her feeling loved and heard.