The other day I was working with one of my favorite groups and we shared a profound experience. This cohort of 31 young people act as Mentors to incoming students at their International Business School. Our meeting was part of their last session together as Mentors, now that the program for this year has drawn to a close. It was my privilege to come in and co-lead their final reflection, together with their talented peer coordinators who have worked with them throughout the experience.
The sessions are a bit of an anomaly in the lives of these students who often carry extremely heavy workloads as well as very busy social lives. These three-hour sessions are a dramatic break in their rhythm. At first, it needs getting used to. It is unheard of for many of them to reflect on their experience let alone listen to others reflect upon theirs. By the end of their six-month tenure, they not only get used to it, but they also long for it. They long for the opportunity to slow down, to see more deeply what is happening and to become aware of what they know.
A Mentor Program the Genuine Contact Way
I designed and have run this program for the past 11 years. In that time, I have the joy of training the Mentors and their Coordinators each year. And I have had the honor of witnessing their growth.
After an initial training intensive, my work centers on supporting the Mentor Coordinators, students who have been Mentors 1 or 2 years earlier. I always enjoy my work with them, and I especially enjoy the few times in the year when I get to meet with the whole group again. I look forward to these times, not only because the Mentors tend to be dedicated, interesting and good people who are fun to be around, but also because it gives me an eye into their learning and their development. As I discover what they have been learning and developing, I am always sure to have my own deeper learning and insights too.
During this last session, we dedicated time to reflect back upon their experience leading a group of incoming students at their university. During these reflection sessions, Whole Person Process Facilitation (WPPF) is the meeting method. Through repeatedly working with WPPF they’ve learned to listen well to one another, to become curious about each other’s lives, diversity of views and experience, and to build deep connections both with other mentors and with their students. Having done this for a number of years, I have seen how these connections continue to flourish even years after they have completed university.
There are two most important skills the Mentors develop during their work. First, the skill to grow their curiosity about the real experience of their mentees as opposed to their assumptions about their experience. Next, the ability to ask questions and listen deeply to what is being said without having to directly find solutions. As business students in a highly competitive and results driven school, this ability to be present to someone without knowing an answer and to be willing to let go of your own “analysis” always emerges as one of the most valuable skills Mentors say they have developed. Often this skill leads them to deep insights.
Deep Wisdom in Our Final Mentoring Circle
This past session I was witness to much wisdom shared and one of these deep insights that opened up new thinking for everyone present. This one comment stuck out as a response to an invitation to reflect upon the learning they are taking away from their mentor experience. A young woman told this story:
“In my group there were some students who weren’t really participating very much. They weren’t engaged and I thought, okay that’s their right, not everyone needs to be engaged. Then we had individual interviews with each student and when I was talking to these students I kept getting really mediocre answers to my questions. Then, I realized:
I was getting mediocre answers because I was asking them mediocre questions.
The group, myself included, took a deep breath, as she realized she had said something rather profound about her own learning, and also about ours. One person asked, “Can I use that from now on?” There were giggles of recognition.
Her wisdom spoke to us all. It brought up a deeper existential question about working with people. ”What is my role in how others engage with me and what we are doing?” In this case, it implies probing myself about my own role in the “mediocre” answers. It allows me to question what my limits are in wanting to be connected with others, so I can choose if this is the way I want to go or not.
One of the foundational beliefs of Genuine Contact is that spirit matters, that through spirit, all of creation is connected, and that people are precious. Her wisdom causes me to dig into the question if people are precious how can I treat them as such in how I engage? Even if they didn’t catch my attention, even if I may not see their value right away?
The beauty in her story was that she asked these questions to herself, in her own way and then the second time she had a chance to interview them individually, she spent more time on her questions and preparation so that she could be more present to her mentees, and as if by magic, she had good conversations with them.
Photo Credit: Alexander Kristiansen