After meeting this week, a mentor reflects with me on the change in demeanor for a young man who seems to be really enjoying his mentor’s undivided attention. He seemed withdrawn, quiet, and possibly a bit depressed. He becomes animated and talkative while playing games and talking with his mentor each week and seems generally happier and more settled at school overall. His mentor comments that they are having some very meaningful conversations.
Positive feelings linger throughout the week when students feel they are seen and heard.
[ Building Empathy ]
What is empathy? Empathy is the ability to understand and share the feelings of another person. Like trust, building empathy takes time. It requires a willingness to sit, listen, and respond (appropriately) to students in both their highs and their lows. Practicing empathy levels the playing field of our conversations and communicates that we really do care for our students. Here are three ways you can build empathy in your mentoring relationship:
- Be sensitive…listen to what your student is saying, look at what they are communicating through their body language, and then be sensitive to what you see and hear.
- Be proactive…when you take the time to really get to know your student (through truly listening to them and seeing them), you can be a proactive mentor rather than a reactive one. A proactive mentor looks for ways to consistently encourage, empower, and help students rather than simply reacting to whatever high or low they are experiencing.
- Be caring…when students see that you care about them, you are giving them the gift of hope. You are communicating to them that they matter. And, that’s a great way to build empathy into your mentoring relationship.
Jason Matthews is a youth pastor in Washington State, where he’s been serving students for over 20 years. When he doesn’t have to be in the office, he loves to be outside with his family, hiking and exploring the Pacific Northwest. He also loves to network with other youth workers.