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Listening and Building Trust

It is the action of listening that is crucial in a mentor-student relationship, of looking someone in the eye; of remembering what they said a week or a month ago; of not judging them. -- Kathryn Gonzales


Consider these questions to reflect on your experience and how it will inform your practice:

How do you know you are being listened to?     How does it feel to you to be listened to?


How do you describe yourself as a listener?   What gets in the way of listening for you?   What could help take these barriers down?

Who are your role models as a listener?  What kinds of role models might you be searching for as you develop this skill?


How can you be prepared to work with racism, classism, ageism, abelism, misogyny, homophobia and transphobia,  and other intersectional oppressions that inhibit and undermine listening?  


How can you assess your work as a listener and your needs in being listened to?  How can you give and get feedback about your listening?

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Mentoring is Listening

At base, mentoring is listening. And to listen makes a demand on the listener; in Old English, the root of the word “listen” includes the meaning  “to obey”; you can hear echoes of this in current use of the word: listening is active, and at the same time involves a degree of surrender, yielding to the uncertain, the unknown, entering a situation of instability, potentially generative, potentially dangerous. To be listened to allows a speaker to share beyond what they already know how to say, bringing into shared witness things that may not have been told, even sometimes to oneself. Being listened to can move something emergent into action and commitment, particularly to self-commitment.  This is generative and carries risk. 

Listening formed the basis of our relationships, both between mentor and mentees, and among students. When people enter into an over-time relationship, listening between them develops. In essence, they learn to communicate. This kind of learning is not normally validated in college or university settings, where the focus on relationships is often drawn to questions of performance.

I guess I should also say that listening is not fixing. Or listening to fix. It is important to understand your mentees and their needs. A great practice is to ask whether or not your mentee is seeking help or if they simply want to vent. This is important to avoid what Princess talks about the “lens of pity”. In doubt, ask your mentees what they need/want from you. It is a powerful way to show that you see them and hear them.- Jada Ceasar

Essentially, effective listening must be coupled with intentionality. As one of the scholars who was supporting my family from afar, working up to 5 jobs, and lived very differently from my other Posse colleagues, when sharing my story I feared not only being viewed in a less powerful way or through a lens of pity, but also being invalidated. . . . As has been mentioned throughout this letter, the Posse cohort is not a monolith and we were all impacted and affected by BMC differently. - Princess Jefferson

Building Trust -- a dialogue in writing between two of us

As you read, consider these questions to join the dialogue:

Whom do you trust?  And why?


What are your current questions about how trust is built and how it can be repaired when broken?


What are your experiences with trusting people whose positioning in systems of power is different from yours?  What are your fears and hopes about this?

Where would you like to cultivate more trust in your mentoring relationships?


What support do you need to make space for trust to grow?

Trust in the mentoring relationship grows when there is open-hearted, free, unworried listening, without the need to rank stories or perspectives on a scale of how correct they are. --Alice Lesnick


I’m wondering what you mean when you talk about the tendency to ‘rank’ perspectives on how ‘correct’ they are. Is this tied to your previous piece, then meaning that trust cannot grow if one takes the perspective that an individual’s perspective may be ‘untrue,’ or an outlier of sorts? To ignore their experiential expertise? If that’s the case, I can certainly relate to institutional figures reacting to my experience with the implication that I am not acting or seeing things ‘correctly,’’and that your continuous commitment to uninhibited, honest attention to my lived personal and collegiate experience greatly served to bolster my trust in you and your support for me--Torr Mundy 


Yes!  This is precisely what I mean.  I am thinking of the ways in which older people more habituated to an institution tend unconsciously to listen to young people or those new to the institution with an ear to legitimate perspectives that align with institutional norms and de-legitimate perspectives that don't.  Mentoring should not be a process of filtering acceptable from unacceptable perspectives in a way that socializes young people to accept institutional norms and expectations  as natural, inevitable, or right.  But since the mentor represents the institution as well as advocates for the student, this needs to be surfaced.  Does that make sense? --Alice Lesnick

Yes, that absolutely makes sense, thank you for clarifying. I really appreciate your last two or three sentences and how they draw out the way that a mentor’s decision to filter certain perspectives may serve to reify certain institutional norms, and that this ability places the mentor in a position of institutional power. They make clear the importance of trust in the mentoring relationship that allows the student to know that their mentor is willing to utilize their role in order to support the student instead of to simply integrate them into the institution.----Torr Mundy

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