MENTORING THROUGH STORYTELLING

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A few years ago, I was mentoring one of my staff engineers. I had to stop myself part way into the discussion so that I could explain myself.  I had been telling him a story, but there was a purpose to the story.  The story WAS the lesson.  I stopped and told my engineer that I was telling him a story for a purpose, and that I was teaching him through storytelling.  He acknowledged this, and allowed me to continue.  I’ve always thought that lessons could be absorbed more fully if they are in the form of a story.  The danger is if your mentee just thinks that you are telling stories without any real underlying reason. 

That is why you will see so many stories here  in my blog.

There are lessons within the stories.

I’ll give you an example.  Early in my career, before I had my degree in geotechnical engineering, I was out on a site investigation at a tailings facility in Nevada.  Near the end of the job, I notified my boss that we still had four piezometers that we could install. They were the push-in, isolated tip variety with metal water pipe for tubing.  My boss told me that we should install them all in the same general area, but at different depths.  I was convinced that my boss was wasting my client’s money.  Once installed, my boss asked me to fill each riser pipe with water, and then to monitor the water depth in each, over time.  I did as he asked.  Much to my surprise, the water levels had stabilized at different depths below ground surface in each piezometer.  I’d later be told that this was due to a downward flow of the water, or more specifically, that there was a downward component to the groundwater gradient.  There was an underdrain that had been constructed at the base of the tailings, and that drain was causing the water to flow downward.  In this story, I can share the very simple lesson about groundwater flow and pore pressures.

And, as a bonus, it should be more memorable.

Tell stories and teach the next generation

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Comments (2)

  1. Steve

    April 4, 2020 at 6:59 am

    Can you remember all the stories that Uncle Ray use to tell us?? I use to cringe because it would take so much of your morning – but many did have a purpose. Listening to Ray and Iggy are still great memories for me…..and I like to tell stories and use it for coaching and mentoring all the time. They may not realize it – but hopefully they will remember this 40 years later too!!

    • admin

      April 4, 2020 at 12:06 pm

      It’s funny how we just think that older people telling stories is just that. Older people telling stories. There is almost always a lesson to be learned. Unless it was a story about Iggy working in a “lipstick” factory!

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