The 3 R’s of Mentoring Relationships
A May 2019 report from LeanIn.org spelled out some pretty horrendous findings about how men are responding to the #MeToo movement and the pervasive harassment that was exposed in many workplaces. Sadly, this new research found that 60% of male managers are uncomfortable participating in a common work activity with a woman, such as mentoring, working alone, or socializing together. That is a 32% increase from the previous year.
There have been many articles already written about this finding, what it means for women in the workplace, how this impacts people’s careers, how to respond to these male managers and leaders who are afraid of what-if scenarios, and how we even got here. While it frustrates me that these adults don’t seem to know how to work with people who are different from themselves, I have to believe that it will get better—that this is just the phase where the wound has been lanced and all of the nasty infection is being released. The time will come when the wound is clean, when a scab forms, when new skin will grow underneath, and when the wound will finally start to heal.
To help get us to that moment, I offer three simple ideas on how to approach your mentoring relationships and how to treat one another so that there is no more fear—on either side.
First of all, you need to have respect within your mentoring relationships. I feel like that should go without saying, but clearly this needs to be explicitly spoken and expected. Respect for one another needs to be part of the DNA of your relationship. Respect means you listen to one another, you speak honestly with one another, you don’t harass or abuse one another, and you don’t use some perceived sense of entitlement to force the other person to do something they don’t want to do or that makes them uncomfortable.
When respect is missing in a relationship, things are off balance. You may find that you don’t care about the other person’s opinion, don’t feel a need to listen to them, or no longer feel the need to hold yourself accountable for your actions and words. This is a dangerous place to be in with your mentoring relationship. It can quickly become toxic.
But when respect for one another is evident in your mentoring relationship, there is a sense of calmness and rightness to the situation. You both feel heard and seen. You act as equal partners who value and appreciate one another, colleagues who can ask difficult questions of one another or have uncomfortable conversations with one another without fear that intentions will be misunderstood. This is what we should strive for and what we should expect from our mentoring relationships.
While respect is vital to any relationship, it means little if you don’t do what you say you will do or follow up on important conversations. You can have all the respect in the world for someone and still sabotage your relationship by not being accountable to yourself and your mentee or mentor. This is why responsiveness if another key element you need to have in your mentoring relationship.
People who do what they say they will are helping to build trust with their mentoring partner. As that trust builds, it makes it easier to have difficult conversations and push one another toward developmental goals that may be challenging. It also provides comfort in knowing that your partner will be there for you when you need them—that they will be responsive to your request for help. That responsiveness can show up not only in the speed with which you respond to your partner, but also the sensitivity with which you listen and respond.
The third R that is needed in a mentoring relationship is reflection. Mentoring works best when you think about what each of you is saying, when you consider options for action, when you explore ideas, and when you reflect on where you are in terms of your career or your developmental goals and then think about where you want to be. This reflection is what makes mentoring unique. Without it, you’d lose the opportunity for deeper growth and development.
Reflection can happen while you are alone or with your mentoring partner. It can also serve as a conversation starter for digging into the development issues that are on your mind.
- What have you been struggling with?
- What areas have you been concerned about?
- What are the things keeping you up at night?
Reflecting on those areas and then discussing them with your mentee or mentor can be a way to bring deeper meaning into your relationship. It can also help you tackle the uncomfortable topics that may be holding you back from mentoring someone who is not the same gender, race, ethnicity, etc. as you. This reflection can help you consider and then tackle your fears so that you start demolishing barriers that are keeping you isolated.
As LeanIn says on their website:
“Now more than ever, we need men to support women–not overlook or avoid them. When women have the same opportunities to succeed and lead as men, it makes the workplace safer and fairer for everyone.”
I couldn’t agree more.