The importance of storytelling in mentoring

Kai Kirkkopelto

Success or failure? Hero or villain? The beginning or the end? Every employee in every organisation has a narrative that defines their relationship with their workplace. The stories your employees tell govern their individual working experience and create your organisation’s history.

So how do you tell the perfect story? And in a company with multiple storytellers, how can mentoring help create the most compelling arcs for all of your employees?…

Know your audience

Great storytelling is simply a form of great communication. If it’s a cathartic way of helping the writer to connect with themselves, its real power lies in extending that connection to a wider audience. Authenticity is everything, with your reader’s emotional investment acting as a barometer for your story’s credibility. Can you relate to your audience? Can you empathise with them enough to truly engage them? In the workplace, the most effective
mentors are the ones who understand their mentees enough to motivate them. Whether words are on a page or spoken in person, their impact is entirely contingent on this ability to relate to your audience.

Use visual imagery

The most memorable stories are the ones that paint vivid pictures in the reader’s head. It’s the meeting of two imaginations, as the writer plants an idea for the audience to develop in their own minds. Great mentoring can engage a mentee in a very similar way. A mentee may already have certain pre-conceived ideas about mentoring, the definition of success or their own role in the workplace. By discussing these thoughts in an open setting, mentoring helps the mentee to visualise them and to create a narrative around defeating negativity and promoting positive ideas. Furthermore, in the same way that people in stories are visual archetypes, mentors can act as characters that have lived their mentee’s experience and assumed successful leadership positions.

Know your message

From Biblical parables to Star Wars, every memorable story has a clear central message that the characters and plotlines gravitate around. The message unifies the story and provides a continuous reference point for both the reader and writer. This sense of clarity improves the reader’s experience and challenges them to question how they feel about the message being presented. Clarity at the start of a mentoring relationship helps to sharpen the focus and sets the standard for the sessions. What’s the purpose of the mentoring? What are you both seeking from the sessions? Use a clear central message to guide the story of your mentoring relationship.

Never explain

A compelling story has enough mystery to keep the reader guessing and maintains a careful balance between excitement and ambiguity. A quick way to drain both excitement and ambiguity is to explain the story to the reader, rather than allowing it to unfold. Instead of providing clarity, this exposes a lack of trust in the audience and an unwillingness to let their
imaginations interpret the story. Challenging the audience and embracing any potential conflict is essential to their engagement. This principle can be applied to mentoring where a senior figure is tasked with imparting their wisdom.

Mentors cannot impose their advice on their mentee’s lives and can only guide them towards self-improvement. Trust is essential. A mentee will always invest in a mentor who has faith in their capacity to invest. As a platform for knowledge-sharing, mentoring is also an opportunity for both parties to learn something from each other, with a trust that they’ll transmit this learning experience into their daily lives. However, this journey isn’t always smooth, and a clash of ideas will always make the experience more

Use your voice

A fictional world can be a safe space for the reader to escape to, whilst also envisaging how their lives might fit within it. But you cannot compel an audience to invest in a story that you weren’t compelled to write. Storytelling is an opportunity to inspire an audience with your

In a busy, competitive workplace, mentoring provides a platform for openness and honesty. The effectiveness of the sessions will hinge on the authenticity of the process. The mentor cannot be someone they aren’t, while the mentee must be prepared to confront their own difficulties. The sessions can be used as a safe environment to be truthful with each other.
Both parties can take advantage of this more informal, personal setting to explore why aspects of their lives aren’t working and to imagine how they might. Furthermore, the mentor has the chance to inspire with a story of success that began with many of the same struggles their mentee may be experiencing. Using your voice to tell your story should never be a burden. Mentoring can feel like an additional task in a working week, or it can be used to make that working week more manageable.

Stories can reinforce the reader’s worldview or challenge them to revaluate it. Mentoring provides the ideal setting for two people to share and introduce new ideas using the mechanics of storytelling. Embrace conflict. Celebrate surprise. Use visual imagery to navigate difficulty. Be flexible enough to treat each mentoring relationship differently. Your employees’ lives are the story of your organisation, waiting to be shared and interpreted.

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