Want to be a good mentor? Be a good storyteller. Storytelling just may be the most compelling tool a mentor can have.
Why? Because storytelling is ingrained in us all; it’s one of the most common, basic, and fundamental forms of human communication.
That’s because stories are the closest we can come to having a shared lived experience with someone else. They give us the opportunity to ride around inside another person’s head and be reminded that being who we are, where we are, and doing what we’re doing is not the only experience or possibility out there. Stories are essential to how people understand the world.
“…Those who do not have the power of the story that dominates their lives—power to retell it, rethink it, deconstruct it, joke about it, and change it as times change—truly are powerless because they cannot think new thoughts.”— Salman Rushdie
This is exactly why storytelling can be such a powerful tool in mentoring relationships—for both mentors and mentees.
Storytelling for Mentors
Mentors that incorporate storytelling into their relationships bring authenticity to their knowledge and experience because their stories help bring their examples to life. According to Storytelling in Mentoring: An Exploratory, Qualitative Study of Facilitating Learning in Developmental Interactions, authors and researchers Caroline D’Abate and Hali Alpert found that:
Protégés learn from their mentors through mentoring interactions, specifically through the stories that mentors tell their protégés…stories are one way that protégés learn with the stories serving learning, emotional support, and/or career progression functions of mentoring. This exploratory study demonstrates that storytelling is, indeed, a powerful and effective mode and method of mentoring.
However, like any skill, storytelling must be learned and practiced, and it can take some time to refine the skill of storytelling in the context of a mentoring relationship. For example, knowing when to share a story, when to stop, and when to ask a mentee to share their own story while you simply listen are all nuances one must learn.
Storytelling for Mentees
When mentees incorporate storytelling into their relationships, it can help mentors identify blindspots and better understand how mentees view themselves.
Mentees’ stories can also help mentors better understand their charge’s true values, beliefs, perceptions, and the way in which they see the world. In short, a mentee’s stories can reveal exactly what they need from their mentors.
How to Incorporate Storytelling in Your Mentoring Relationship
So how can you harness the power of storytelling in your own mentoring relationship? Go back to the start. Reflect on your journey up to this point. Try to think of the moments of importance that led to you arriving where you are now, sitting here in your chair, on this very day, among those who you surround yourself with. What happened? What brought you here? You’ve got to know this, because that’s your starting point.
Ultimately, stories can convey meaning, inspire listeners, and transmit wisdom to help mentees grow, learn, and develop in their jobs and careers. As D’Abate and Alpert’s research concluded, “storytelling is indeed a powerful tool in mentoring—allowing mentors to calm their protégés, encourage them, help them solve problems, build their confidence, teach them, give them direction, and provide numerous other functions.”
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