What is a mentor?
A mentor is someone who will encourage and support a mentee to make the most of their career or business. As a mentor, the role is to be a trusted confidante, helping the mentee to make informed choices.
Although the final decisions are always in the mentee’s hands, a mentor can be invaluable in guiding the mentee to consider the options, get new information and identify the support they need.
In this article we will run through some proven techniques to help both the mentor and mentee develop effective mentoring conversations.
Mentors need good listening skills, but this can be easier said than done. The brain capacity to process information is four times the speed we can speak. This means the mind can easily wander off due to this spare brain capacity.
Our ears are constantly taking in and interpreting sound. Consequently 99 per cent of sensory input is filtered out to prevent overload. For these reasons what people are really saying can be missed if we are not fully present in the conversation.
Being present means stilling the mind, suspending judgement, postponing analysis and being able to concentrate and attend all the messages – what they say, how they are saying it and what they are not saying.
Effective listening involves feeding back what you think are the relevant points to the speaker and checking that what you heard is what they meant.
Use open questions
Mentoring is about getting a person to open up and talk more, as this often results in the mentee finding their own solutions. Mentoring is not about the mentor doing all the talking and providing the mentee with all the answers.
A mentor may need to probe to unlock thoughts, feelings, aspirations, goals, values and priorities.
A mentor can use questions such as:
“Can you expand more on that?” and “Tell me more about that”.
Sometimes probing questions can be of a delicate nature and need “cushioning”;
“Do you mind if I ask?”
Adding more and better questions adds value to the mentoring conversation.
Mind maps, can be a useful tool in mentoring relationships. Start by writing and circling the issue or topic that needs exploring in the centre of a page. Next, draw out the issues associated with the central topic and place them in the map as branches radiating from the central topic. Each of these associated issues can be explored and developed in the same way. The resulting mind map can be used to evaluate which ideas are most important and worth pursuing first and which are less relevant to the situation. This can be a useful technique for a mentee having difficulty seeing his or her way forward.
Force field analysis
This can be a useful technique for considering the arguments for and against a course of action. A plan or proposal is recorded in the central of three columns. Favourable factors are listed in the first column; unfavourable factors are listed in the final column. By carrying out the analysis you can plan to strengthen the factors supporting a course of action, and to reduce the impact of opposing factors. Using lines, colour and even drawings or doodles on the force field analysis can be helpful in uncovering unknown hopes and fears and unappreciated strengths.
Personal quality profile
This can help when a mentee appears to be suffering from low self-esteem. Asking the mentee to list his or her personal qualities can boost confidence. A follow up exercise might be to encourage the mentee to ask two friends to describe how they see him or her. If their opinions do not match the mentee’s you might encourage them to work out why this is.
When a mentee is ‘stuck’ or feeling despondent you could ask them to recall a situation in which they felt successful or proud of an achievement. Then help the mentee to identify the factors which contributed to that achievement and feeling of well-being. Finally explore how some of those factors might be brought into play in the current situation.
This is a longer-term strategy which could form the basis for a series of meetings. The mentee maps out in writing or diagrams up to three different career visions, taking into account his or her aims, abilities, constraints and knowledge of opportunities that might be available.
Encourage the mentee to add realistic timescales and to be prepared to move between differing versions rather than to stick rigidly to one, so that failing at certain hurdles does not have such a big impact. In time one clear career path may emerge from this process. Identifying small steps towards bigger goals can be of great value.
If you are interested in becoming a mentor or would like to benefit from having a mentor then why not join our mentoring program, where you will find lots more resources to help you develop a successful mentoring relationship.
Find out more here.