One of the interesting aspects of co-editing a new book on Diversity Mentoring (due to be published by McGraw-Hill in August) was the comparative reluctance of the LGBT community to discuss their mentoring relationships – even when the research was being carried out by an openly lesbian colleague, with high credibility in terms of understanding and being sensitive to the issues. The researcher herself was shocked and to some extent deflated.

What’s behind this reaction from the LGBT community? After some reflection, I wonder whether it is in some way connected to differing perspectives on intimacy. There seem to be at least four types of intimacy:
• Intellectual (sharing of ideas and concepts)
• Emotional (sharing feelings)
• Physical (the boundaries of our personal space and what is and isn’t appropriate in terms of non-sexual touching)
• Sexual

Inevitably, there is overlap between these areas of intimacy. For example, from my observations of coaching and mentoring conversations, it is clear that, when people are relatively reluctant to talk about their emotions, helping them first achieve a level of intimacy in discussing ideas can gradually encourage them to open up and feel more comfortable.

Our felt need for privacy in each of these areas is shaped by a variety of factors, including culture and our experience of the reactions of others. Where society tends to be censorious about the behaviour of a group or individual in one of these perspectives of intimacy, they will be much more guarding of their privacy in that respect. It would not be surprising, if that privacy envelope extended to other aspects of intimacy, including the emotional and intellectual that my colleague was attempting to explore.

It’s also the case that people exhibit wildly contradictory behaviour with regard to intimacy and privacy. The contrast between what an employee will tell their employer and what they are willing to tweet or put on Facebook is an example of this.

When I think about my own reactions to intimacy and privacy, I observe that I permit medical staff to breach my boundaries of personal space and physical intimacy, because I recognize that the intent is to help me and because I trust that intent. It may well be, therefore, that the LGBT community needs to see a clearer link between research into mentoring and benefits to them collectively and individually. And it is up to researchers to establish and validate that link, as a precursor to building the requisite trust.

It is, of course, a truism that every time we seek to understand the roots of different behaviour in others, we learn a little more about ourselves!

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