‘The three circles of energy’
A special insight into mentorship skills
— From Patsy Rodenburg OBE, author of Presence: How to Use Positive Energy for Success in Every Situation, Head of Voice Coaching and speaker at Moving Ahead

All great civilisations, communities and families have, since the beginning of time, relied on their elders to educate upcoming leaders on how to protect, enhance and teach morals. Elders were the receptacles of experience and the communities’ values. It was understood that younger members of a community would learn from them but also offer fresh insights to their elders in return, and that great leadership was reliant on this crucial exchange.

Yet in recent history this exchange has been considered archaic, even mocked. The new and young were thought to have all the answers, and deep knowledge and experience has been ejected from the workplace and education. This oversight and arrogance has proved disastrous to our society and companies. Mentoring is the clearest route back to the elders. Simply, an experienced leader meets and has an honest dialogue with a promising new leader.

To experience the full impact of mentoring, both the mentor and mentee must be fully present and engaged with each other. There is a shared energy that allows for equal dialogue: giving (speaking) and receiving (listening).

A key element is presence, which enables a creative, in-the-moment experience. The notion of being present or engaged can sound abstract. Most people know it has something to do with being interested in or curious about something outside themselves, and we’ve all experienced the sense that someone speaking to us has ceased to be present. We can see it in their bodies and hear it in their voices. Their spines are slumped, shoulders rounded, head down and eyes glazed or distant. Their breath is short and high in their body and their words do not reach out. Whether sitting or standing, they are pulling away from the world, pulling away from us. I call this position First Circle.

The physical representation of presence in the body, breath and voice, is full attentiveness, and aligns with openness and focus in the mind and heart. I call this Second Circle – a state of readiness or alertness. Physically, weight is on the balls of the feet, the spine is straight, shoulders are relaxed, and the body actively forward, ready to engage. Most importantly, there is eye contact. Second Circle is also expressed in a calm, deep and unrushed breath. When we speak, words move out and effortlessly reach and touch our listener. If we are to be open to listening, the requirements are the same.

When two people are in Second Circle together they are fully attentive. Only then is there a real opportunity for dialogue, education, human contact and mentoring. The quality of Second Circle is contagious and brings clarity to every situation. Second Circle presence is our natural state. Most of us are born present. It is how we should all be and live. It is how we survive. It is how we make real contact with the world. And – crucially – it’s how we have impact, lead powerfully and mentor well.

One of the most famous lines in Shakespeare is from Hamlet:

"To be or not to be; that is the question"

To be is to be in Second Circle.

Yet the way most of us live and work means that the natural energy of Second Circle is being eroded. Perhaps you recognise Third Circle: an aggressive position that takes over our space. The chest is lifted, spine taut, the voice loud or pushy. These people are not good listeners and can even interrupt inappropriately.

I developed the Three Circles and the exercises that accompany them over decades to help people understand the general energies we meet on a day-to-day basis and that we can habitually adopt to help or hinder presence. Understanding them gives you control over your energy and teaches you to reconnect when you feel yourself disconnecting. Using the Three Circles, the mentee can receive knowledge and hard-won experience; the mentor meets a new, fresher world and experiences the joy of giving knowledge, and observing growth in their mentee and themselves. And transformation happens naturally.

Find your Second Circle. And stay there.