Two people having a conversation. Mentors, mentees. Self-disclosure.

New research looks at mentor self-disclosure in mentoring pairs

Two people having a conversation. Mentors, mentees. Self-disclosure.Dutton, H., Bullen, P., & Deane, K. (2019). “It is OK to let them know you are human too”: Mentor self-disclosure in formal youth mentoring relationships. Journal of Community Psychology, 47(4), 943-963.

Summarized by Jeremy Astesano

Notes of Interest:

  • Self-disclosure is an important way for mentors and mentees to build closeness, but there isn’t a wealth of literature on the subject of how this occurs.
  • The present study sought to explore what mentor self-disclosure looks like, and how common it is, in addition to analyzing how mentors personally described what they self-disclosed to mentees
  • The present study consisted of a sample of 54 mentors who were nearing the conclusion of a 1 to 1 mentoring program in New Zealand.
  • Data were collected using the Mentor Self-Disclosure Inventory (MSDI)
  • Ultimately, these authors found significant mentor self-disclosure on a range of topics. Common topics of self-disclosure included hobbies and school, work, beliefs, and thoughts on substance use.
  • Mentors largely perceived their self-disclosure to have a positive effect on the relationship and ranged in approach from natural sharing of information to more structured, intentional disclosure. Several challenges of self-disclosure were also highlighted.
  • This exploratory study provides a useful step towards understanding how mentor self-disclosure helps build relationships and report with mentees.

Introduction (Reprinted from the Abstract)

This study aims to capture descriptive data on how mentors self‐disclose to their adolescent mentees. Self‐disclosure is a normative communication process that facilitates trust and closeness in interpersonal relationships. Despite being a relational intervention, little is known about self‐disclosure in youth‐mentoring relationships. A total of 54 mentors from 2 community‐based mentoring programs in Auckland, New Zealand, participated in this mixed‐methods study about their experiences of disclosing to mentees via an online questionnaire. In this sample, mentors disclosed about various topics, including hobbies, school and work, health, beliefs, self‐esteem, substance use, emotions, sex, and money. Qualitative analysis identified themes regarding how mentors self‐disclose, disclosure influencing positive relationship characteristics, the influence of mentoring programs, challenges with mentee interest and culture clashes, and the perceived effect of self‐disclosure on mentees and the mentoring relationship. These mentors disclosed broadly and viewed generally self‐disclosure in a positive way, but they also experienced challenges and complexities.

Implications (Reprinted from the Discussion)

In both the quantitative and qualitative data, the mentors in this sample almost universally perceived self‐disclosure as having a positive effect on either their mentee or their mentoring relationship. This response is particularly strong for items in Part A, which suggests the items typically considered to be part of the “getting to know you” phase of a relationship are building rapport and warmth as intended. These positive perceptions of self‐disclosure are not unfounded; as discussed earlier, research has shown how self‐disclosure can be beneficial to relationships, particularly when it comes to developing highly desired relationship characteristics such as trust and closeness (Derlega et al., 1993; Greene et al., 2006).

Of particular interest is the idea of mentors disclosing to identify similarities with their adolescent mentees, which in turn enhances their relationship. Therapists have reported using disclosure with adolescents specifically for this purpose (Gaines, 2003; Papouchis, 1990; Simon, 1990). Some aspects of adolescence, such as an increased desire for independence, decision making, and intimacy, are universal, and by drawing on their own experiences in these areas, mentors may be able to help support their mentee and build a stronger relationship. In contrast to Part A, the perceived effect of self‐disclosure was more mixed for items in Parts B and C. The additional complexity and intimacy of these items may have made it more difficult for these mentors to recognize how their disclosures could affect the relationship.

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