Some of the most important conversations I’ve had were not done face-to-face rather shoulder-to-shoulder. I can think of quite a few momentous heart-to-heart conversations which took place either hiking up a mountain, peeling potatoes, folding socks or cleaning out the garage…it seems that while one’s hands or feet are actively engaged, one’s thoughts start to condense into little nuggets of sharable information.
Sometimes a face-to-face setting can be rather daunting and does not encourage us to share our more vulnerable thoughts and emotions. I think it is the non-threatening, comfortable space that exists between two people who are quietly working together that makes it easier to share these thoughts and feelings.
My theory for why this is true is as follows:
Firstly, any activity that requires concentration allows one to escape from the usual tangled web of thoughts that often clutter our minds. It becomes impossible to stress about our daily worries if you are counting crochet stitches, trying to remember to breathe whilst saluting the sun in Yoga, or determining where to move your knight to avoid checkmate. The more you focus on an activity the more relaxing it becomes.
This brings me to the second reason: you need to trust somebody to relax in their presence. Achieving, discovering or experiencing something together creates a bond between two people.
What follows naturally when two people practise a hobby, sport or even just do a task together is this safe environment of trust – ideal for sensitive conversations.
I think this is important to bear in mind in any relationship, but especially in a mentorship relationship. It could be a very worthwhile investment in the relationship to find a hobby or activity to do with your mentee that could provide such a comfortable space – a relaxed environment of trust – where conversation can take place in an unforced manner.
A few ideas:
- Learn a new skill together, something like embroidery, bonsai or origami or even a new language.
- Make a scrap book or collage together. This can be a great way to help the mentee get a vision for their future.
- Write a poem, comic strip, story or play together – encourage him/her to be creative, you could add illustrations.
- Read a book together – a few pages during each meeting and take turns reading. Don’t forget to do the voices!
- Play a sport or a game (Play catch, soccer, hop-scotch, Monopoly, chess, build a puzzle, catchers, stuck-in-the-mud).
All these activities should be fun in their own right but the idea behind each is to create a comfortable space where conversation can take place, where teachable moments can be seized and you can chat, shoulder-to-shoulder, heart-to-heart.