When someone shows you who they are, believe them the first time.
—Maya Angelou

At a Retreat to train an organization to develop its own internal mentoring program, I did a demonstration Mentor Coaching with one of the Mentors. I asked her initially what she wanted to focus on in our session. She was vague, speaking in generalities about mentoring sessions with one of her protégés with whom she had significant challenges. I then asked what she wanted to walk away with from the coaching session. She still could not get beyond vague generalities.

After unsuccessful efforts to get her to focus with me on what she wanted specifically to get out of the session, I paused and asked if I could share a hunch with her. I wondered if she was experiencing the same reluctance as her client to open up share a meaningful exchange, preferring instead to stay at a distance, even though feeling stuck.

She confirmed that this was true, and said how embarrassed and reluctant she felt to share any of her struggles in front of her peers. She had never before participated in a demonstration coaching, or had witnesses for a mentoring session. I told her that I understood entirely, and that it wasn’t easy to share intimate details about an experience in front of someone else, and especially a number of peers.

I suggested that she consider her experience as an exact read of her protégé, and that the reluctance that she was experiencing with me and showing me through her embarrassment was precisely what her protégé was trying to tell her, through the process of the exchange, rather than consciously and with words.

She immediately understood what I was saying, and recognized that was precisely what was happening. She then began to open herself to discuss aspects of the engagement that were challenging but accessible to her, and collaborated with me on strategies and ways to address this issue with herself as a prerequisite to addressing it with her protégé. Immersed in her own discomfort, she was unaware of the unfolding interactive attachment pattern, and its parallel between herself and her protégé.

We came to see that when she felt confident about herself as a mentor, and about sharing her story, that she could be totally present with me. She then knew that she could help her protégé evolve his story and dare to risk some of his experiences with her. Her parallel of both the process and the attachment pattern in the engagement with me allowed both of us to see how her protégé was teaching her exactly what it was like to be him.