At a recent quarterly meeting I conducted with a group of mentors, the question arose about how to deal with a mentoree who is afraid of taking risks. This is not an uncommon situation as a mentoring relationship seeks to challenge a mentoree to grow beyond their comfort level.
Fear affects every one of us: we can be afraid of failure, of success, of others, etc. What is true is that if we don't confront our fears, then we are ruled by them. So having a trusting mentoring relationship provides an excellent opportunity to deal with one's fears. In assisting a mentoree in confronting his/her fear of taking a specific risk, the mentor's ability to guide and to be empathic is critical. Words like "You can do this" and "I believe in you" are great but not sufficient. Here are some thoughts on how to approach this issue more deeply.
Ask the mentoree what is the worst they imagine will happen if they take this risk? Are they expressing a fear of being shamed or of being berated for failing at the risk? This usually refers to an experience they had previously that is now impacting their ability to take the risk involved. Asking the mentoree to relate such a prior experience will give the mentor a greater understanding of what happened and some clues as to how best to assist the mentoree now.
The first thing to point out is how the circumstances are different from that experience to the one the mentoree is contemplating: the players are different, the actions are different, etc. In exploring this more deeply, the mentor can come to discover which of the various components proved the most difficult for the mentoree and what can be done to minimize that fear in the new circumstance.
For example, perhaps he had to do a presentation and his boss was unhappy about it and criticized him in front of his colleagues. This makes him anxious in doing another presentation. Here, the mentor can explore how that made the mentoree feel and what could he have done to minimize this and, if nothing, what can be done in the new situation to ensure this doesn't happen again. For example, the mentoree could tell his new boss that he would like to receive feedback on the presentation he will make but would prefer to have time set aside with his boss in private beforehand. This provides the mentoree with a sense of control that the feedback will be given in an appropriate setting.
What is important for a mentor to remember is to acknowledge the mentoree's fear, not criticize or diminish its impact; and to strategize with the mentoree on ways he can ensure his safety as he attempts a new behavior. It's also important to reiterate that the mentor will still be there to support the mentoree no matter what happens.
The process outlined here goes a long way to empowering a mentoree to confront and deal with fear that is getting in the way of their success. This is the purpose behind mentoring--empowering to move beyond fear!
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