How to be a Great Mentor
Make The Most of Your Commitment – Mentoring can be a challenge that is well worth your time and effort. Use these tips to get the most out of mentoring sessions – both for you and your Apprentice.
1. Be fully present. Mentoring requires excellent listening and your full attention. Devote your full attention to your Apprentice. Whether the mentoring session is in person, by telephone, or via email, this means making yourself unavailable to others during the mentoring conversation. By not allowing interruptions, the quality of your mentoring will be significantly more effective and productive for both of you.
2. Take time to make a personal connection at the start of the session. One of the pleasures of a mentoring relationship is the sense of connection between two people. Your kick off meeting is a great opportunity to make a connection. Also, before launching into the focus area for the day, spend a few minutes on “Small talk”. It often helps both people to relax and get ready for a deeper conversation.
3. Ask open-ended questions. In order to provide relevant perspective, the mentor must understand the Apprentice’s situation and concerns at a deep level. Rather than asking questions that can be answered with a simple “yes” or “no,” practice asking questions that call for a reflective response. Remember to keep in mind why your Apprentice is there and what he/she should gain from the experience. It is better to know some of the right questions than to have all of the answers. High-gain questions are open-ended questions rather than yes/no questions that typically start with “Who, What, When, How, Tell me more about…Give me an example of…”
4. Listen with curiosity, not judgment. Be conscious of your own listening and strive for deep listening coming from your own curiosity rather than problem solving. Each person is unique and comes to their present moment from a different path. Listen with the goal to learn more about the person.
5. Try not to interrupt, unless there is a need to manage time or focus the dialogue. Do paraphrase or “feedback” what the Apprentice says to confirm that your understanding is accurate.
6. Ask direct questions to focus the session. Mentoring sessions often go all too quickly. To focus the session, ask simple and straightforward questions at the beginning of the session to ensure that the conversation is focused on the topics that are “top of mind” for the Apprentice today. For example, you could ask, “What would you like to talk about today?” or “I’d love a quick update and then let’s choose a topic for today’s session.” Ask early on in the session: What help do you need from me?
7. Notice what has “heart and meaning” for the Apprentice. A good mentor conversation involves much more than trading information and knowledge. By paying attention to the emotion and energy of the Apprentice, you will be able to observe what matters most to the Apprentice, as well as where he or she may feel discouraged or overwhelmed. Notice your Apprentice’s enthusiasms and areas of confidence and point them out to the Apprentice to help build confidence and connection.
8. Tell your story. People often learn best through storytelling. If you have experiences related to the challenges faced by your Apprentice, check with the Apprentice to see if he would like you to share the story of your experience. Make sure to focus on the aspects of your experience that are most pertinent.
9. Share the conversation rather than doing all the talking. Sometimes, mentors mistakenly believe that their job is mainly to impart wisdom and expertise. If you find yourself talking at length, with little interruption or dialogue with your Apprentice, stop yourself and reorganize the conversation by asking questions about the Apprentice.
10. Set and honor boundaries. Mentoring relationships work best when each person knows what to expect – and what not to expect. During the first session, establish the way in which the mentoring relationship will be set up. How frequently will you meet? Where?
11. Follow through on your commitments. Make note of your promise and make it a priority to follow through. Dropping the ball can lead to confusion and mistrust in the relationship. Do make commitments carefully, being realistic about what you can offer and by when you can deliver it. You may want to ask your Apprentice to prompt your follow-up with an email to you after the session.
12. Be encouraging and action-oriented. Recognize that the problem isn’t figuring out what to do – the problem is doing it!
13. Give helpful feedback. Provide constructive feedback that is specific, descriptive and non-judgmental.
14. Honor confidentiality. Conversations between mentor and Apprentice must be considered private. It is a violation of trust to talk about the Apprentice’s life and issues outside of the mentoring conversation without the permission of the Apprentice. Be careful about honoring the Apprentice’s trust.
For Mentors: Language to Avoid
Have you ever felt judged by someone whom you thought was listening with the intention to help you? When mentoring others, you can avoid giving this impression by avoiding the language of judgment. Here are some examples of what NOT to say:
• “You should….”
• “Yes, but….”
• “There’s only one way to do it….”
• “What you need to do is….”
• “What I always do is….”
• “Your problem is….”
• “Actually what needs to be done is….”
• “If you don’t….. you aren’t going to….”
• “I wouldn’t think about it that way.”
For Mentors: Language that Encourages
• “You could…”
• “Have you considered….?”
• “What would happen if you…?”
• “What might be the consequences of not acting on this?”
• “Yes/and” rather than “Either/or”
• “There are many approaches that might work…”
• “One idea is…what do you think?”
• “What do you think needs to be done?”
• “How else could you think about this?”
• “What resources are available to you right now to support progress?”
• “When has this happened to you before? What did you do?”
Listening: The Hallmark of a Great Mentor
Good mentors are empathetic listeners. They understand the benefit for the Apprentice of speaking aloud what is on her mind. The seasoned mentor does not focus on interpreting the Apprentice’s story for problem solving. Instead, the mentor seeks to help the Apprentice define the real issues. H/she listens for the word choices, intentions, emotions, and nuances of the story. The mentor uses active listening and encouragement to connect with the Apprentice, while focusing on asking powerful, open-ended questions.
Mentors listen for:
• Goals and intentions
• The meaning behind the story
• Themes and recurrent words
• Resistance, fear, anxiety, hesitation, “BS”
• Tone, mood
• Commitment and passion