How to mentor when times are really tough

It may sound trite to say times are tough right now. But wherever you live, the stresses on daily life have been relentless. With a global pandemic, conflict in Ukraine, and in many parts of the world, the impacts of climate change in the form of fires, massive storms and floods, it would be hard not to be feeling anxious. Where I live in Australia, we were affected by unprecedented bushfires in 2019/ 2020, followed by Covid, and now severe weather causing massive flooding, as I write this.

After the fires, we released this blog Responding with Intention: Leadership After a Crisis. We also sought to help mentoring pairs stay connected when Covid forced many of us to work from home. But this year feels different. It’s not just one crisis, it’s one after another with no recovery time in between.

Whether you are coaching and mentoring people in your own work team, across your organisation, or outside of work, it requires a level of self-awareness to know when you are suffering too much from worry and fear yourself. We talk about how the reptilian brain hijacks the executive brain without us even realising it here. You can’t be helpful to others when you are feeling this way and so it’s important to find strategies to calm yourself and return to a more resourceful, grounded state. Tune back in to what’s important to you and stay true to your values. Give yourself a break. No one is expected to be a superhero, especially not at the moment.

How do you mentor others when they are worried and anxious?

  1. Ask your mentee how they are feeling and what would be most helpful to them in your conversation. They may just need you to do MORE LISTENING. When people are anxious, sometimes they just want to unload and process their feelings.
  2. Recognise when you cannot help. You probably can’t fix the underlying problems for them and they may need expert help. If you feel your mentee is suffering from extreme anxiety or depression, encourage them to seek professional help. They may need to suspend the mentoring for a while. Focusing on challenging goals may be inappropriate right now. If you are not sure how to recognise when to refer your mentee on, read this helpful resource from our good friend, Thea O’Connor.
  3. Be vulnerable and share your own imperfections, including your own struggles with what is happening in your environment. This may help them to realise that it’s quite normal to feel anxious at times like these.
  4. Make it OK for them to show emotions, and talk about them. The more you get comfortable with sitting quietly with someone who is suffering, the more useful you will be too them. Great mentors don’t fill awkward silences, they don’t necessarily try get mentees to see the positives in a terrible situation. They just listen and validate.

 The Wellbeing Lab 2020 Workplace Report found that that workers experience greater wellbeing and better performance when they feel psychologically safe to bring up problems and talk honestly about mistakes with each other. This finding is widely supported in various studies. Don’t underestimate what a lifeline you can be to your mentees when times get tough. You are needed!

© Melissa Richardson 2022

A frustrated businesswoman holds her forehead as she is surrounded by paperwork and her laptop.


A guide to unleashing the hidden value in your organisation through high impact strategic mentoring programs.

Most human beings and organisations have one thing in common – they both want to do better. But it’s hard for one to achieve without the other. When you can harness both you can achieve great things.

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the ripple effect