How the Cumbrian Hills set the perfect scene for my first Reverse Mentoring Session

Rhiannon Carss
Rhiannon Carss on 27th Feb 2023

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Communications Director Rhiannon Carss reflects on her first experience of being a mentee in Curtins’ Reverse Mentoring programme, and how conversations whilst walking can open the mind and the soul.  

As I left my mentor, Suzanne Johnsen, a Project Engineer here at Curtins, I asked how her she felt after our first Reverse Mentoring session. ‘Energised!’ was her reply. I couldn’t have agreed more. 

Making my way back down the M57 from beautiful Cumbria, where Suzanne is based and where we held our first catch up, I blasted Stereophonics in the car, sang my heart out, and just felt exactly as Suzanne had summarised; energised. 

I don’t mind admitting that there was a degree of trepidation this morning as I made the journey in the other direction. How would that first session go? Might it be a bit awkward? Would we find enough common ground? 

Whilst I am the mentee and am more than ready to embrace that role, I’m also really keen for this to be a mutually beneficial experience. I want Suzanne to enjoy it. I want her to see its value and end the programme feel glad she’d got involved. I want her to feel that she has learned at least something! Could I offer that to her? 

I am “only” 36 years old. I’ve been at Curtins for 11 years, but two of those were spent singing Incy Wincy Spider in a cold church hall (hello maternity leave), so I couldn’t help asking myself, will I have enough experience to share? Added to that, Suzanne is an extremely capable engineer, she is hugely respected both across our business but also in the wider industry, too. She is quickly being recognised as a leading force in conservation and heritage work, and I have witnessed first-hand how highly clients speak of her. Would she have been hoping for a senior technical mentee, whom she could learn from? 

I hadn’t necessarily intended to share this apprehension, but very soon I opened up to Suzanne, and she kindly pointed out that we all have something to offer, we all have something to share and something to give. She, perhaps charitably, said she was very pleased to have been hooked up with me.  

Time to dive in… 

We started the session exploring why we’d signed up for the programme in the first place; what did we hope to achieve? What could we each bring to the relationship? What were we expecting? We chatted through our dreams and aspirations as well as our frustrations and challenges. I tried to ask as many questions as I could and I also tried hard to really listen, recognising that is key to a successful mentoring partnership.  

We then packed away our laptops and notebooks and took a walk. I think this is when it really clicked for both of us.  

How the Cumbrian Hills set the perfect scene for my first Reverse Mentoring Session

As we wandered down the old canal tow path, Suzanne shared a story about a beautiful old bridge and how it had been used by horses when the canal ran that far. We talked about life at Curtins and people we’d worked with. We talked about our academic lives and our families. Walking through the cemetery and whilst admiring the stunning spring flowers lining the way, I opened up abut losing my dad during COVID and how hard I’d found that time. 

It's no secret that some of the best 121s happen when you’re walking side by side, be that with your teenage kid or your line manager.

It's no secret that some of the best 121s happen when you’re walking side by side, be that with your teenage kid or your line manager. I know this, I’ve read the blogs and the insight papers, but regrettably I do not really practice it myself. I am inexplicably far too wedded to the meeting room table, or more recently, the Teams screen. But Reverse Mentoring is about trying something new, right? So, we walked, and we chatted, and we very quickly but naturally started to build our relationship. 

I shared with Suzanne how much I was enjoying the walk, how I’d heard that it can be an effective way of connecting with people. Suzanne nodded, “you’re going in the same direction at the same speed” she said, “even if it’s just for that journey”. 

Whilst I’d say we are very different personalities with different roles and different life experiences, we also identified our similarities. Suzanne shared that her dad always encouraged her celebrate anything and everything – even the small stuff. We also lived by this (excellent!) mantra in my household growing up and it is something that forms a big part of my homelife now. Project handed in Suzanne, – whoop! Perfectly runny egg – hurrah! 

A couple of hours passed as we meandered through conversations about receiving feedback and managing workload, travelling and cleaners. It started to rain, we just put our hoods up. Making our way back to the office, we saw a dog having the time of their life in the sun. “That’s another thing my dad taught me” Suzanne said, “to look for moments of perfect joy”. 

So that’s it, my first ever session of reverse mentoring down. I no longer feel any trepidation. I just feel excitement. We agreed not to set wild goals and go into it with high expectations, but I already know that I’m going to learn a lot. Some of that will inevitably shape how I approach my work, but I after today I’m also pretty sure I’ll be shaped as a person too.

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