Practicing Vulnerability in Mentoring
December 15, 2023

It is no secret that being vulnerable in relationships takes courage.  Renowned researcher of vulnerability, empathy and courage, Dr. Brené Brown says that “vulnerability is having the courage to show up when you can’t control the outcome.”  This sounds like the mentoring experience!  We arrive at their school each week hopeful to build a friendship with this young human who has their own life experiences, hopes and fears.  We set about establishing rapport, getting to know them and following through on our commitment.  It isn’t always easy.  The secret ingredient throughout, however, is allowing yourself to be vulnerable in the relationship; to be human.  In practicing vulnerability, you are making it “okay” for your mentee to be vulnerable.  Based on Dr. Brown’s research, she has come to believe “vulnerability is the birthplace of love, belonging, joy, courage, empathy, and creativity.”  

At whatever age or developmental stage they are in, you can practice vulnerability in your mentoring relationship.  

 The steps to practicing vulnerability in mentoring include:

  • Sharing what you have learned from your life experiences.  By knowing how you have grown and changed from your own struggles, disappointments and failures, you understand the value in the experience.  This puts you in a position to share what you have learned with your mentee when the opportunity arises.
  • Engaging in open communication.  Actively listen to gain understanding and withhold all judgment.  It is never safe to assume that you and your mentee have had the same experiences; however, your mentee benefits from knowing that you too make mistakes and learn from them.  Imagine the relief of your mentee when you share that you are an imperfect human that makes mistakes and has bad days, just like them!  Being vulnerable with your mentee is vital to building a healthy mentoring relationship.  

Modeling vulnerability can foster your mentee’s Social Emotional Learning (SEL), which is vital for school, work, and life success!  These skills are:

  • Self-Awareness- Understanding one’s emotions, thoughts, and values, and how they influence their behavior.
  • Self-Management- Managing one’s emotions, thoughts, and behaviors in different situations to achieve goals and aspirations.
  • Social Awareness- Understanding the different perspectives of others and empathizing with them, including those from a different background.

When we encourage you to “be vulnerable,” we are not suggesting that you talk about personal troubles or overshare what is going on in your life; we are asking that you express sensitivity, humility and imperfection when building your mentoring relationship with your mentee. Be courageous Seedling Mentor!

Vulnerability in Mentoring was the focus of Seedling’s December Mentor Training.  To view the PowerPoint slides, click here.

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