Make Mentoring Conversations Meaningful

Written by
Laura Francis

Best Practices for Mentoring Programs

Mentoring ConversationsHooray!  You’ve found a mentee or mentor and are officially part of a mentoring relationship.  Now what?

Now comes the work.  This is when you get to know one another, figure out the goals for your relationship, establish boundaries for your interactions with one another, and start to actually talk and learn and share with one another.

The biggest stumbling block for people can be figuring out how to have meaningful conversations with their mentoring partner.  River hosted a webinar called “Getting the Most from Mentoring Conversations” and heard from mentoring practitioners on what makes for productive conversations—and what holds people back.  Does any of this sound or feel familiar?

According to our webinar attendees, the top challenges people face when it comes to engaging in productive mentoring conversations include:

  • A lack of time for mentoring and challenges with preparing for and scheduling meetings
  • Not knowing where to begin
  • Inadequate skills and abilities when it comes to communication or having difficult/frank conversations
  • An inability of mentors to make experiences relevant to the realities of mentees or being able to connect with the mentee
  • Not setting clear goals or lacking a mentoring plan
  • Difficulties with relationship-building between mentees and mentors; a lack of commitment
  • Not having trust or confidentiality between partners
  • Uncomfortable being vulnerable and transparent with one another
  • Generational stereotypes
  • A lack of training and best practice resources
  • Not knowing how to measure results and progress
  • Having too much dependency on HR to set up and manage mentoring
  • Not having support from higher levels in the organization

Trust in MentoringUnfortunately, these challenges are real and can stifle any mentoring relationship.  But there is hope!  You can do something about this and can make your mentoring conversations more productive and meaningful.  Here are some of the top characteristics our webinar attendees identified for making this possible:

  • Trust
  • Honesty/transparency
  • Openness/vulnerability
  • Respect/rapport
  • Preparation/planning
  • Engaged parties
  • Realistic expectations/guidance
  • Setting ground rules early on/alignment on what each wants
  • Commitment/motivation/intention
  • Accountability
  • Thoughtful questions/prior agenda
  • Reflection before and after the conversation
  • Conversational guides
  • Empathy and listening
  • Flexibility
  • Being open to feedback and suggestions
  • Support from management
  • Time

From this list, which suggestions can you apply to your mentoring relationship immediately?  What areas are the most pressing?  Which do you already have in place?

Trust in MentoringChoose 2-3 ideas that you can implement quickly with your mentee or mentor, and talk to your partner about your ideas.  Keep in mind that some of your most pressing issues may not be the easiest ones to solve.  Consider choosing a more difficult but critical area to discuss with your partner and tackle together, but with the understanding that it might take more effort.  Finally, celebrate the areas that you already have a handle on!  Congratulate yourself and your partner for your success in those areas and acknowledge that there are positive aspects of your relationship that can be seen in how productive your conversations are.

For all the mentoring program managers out there, our webinar participants also had ideas on what you could do to help your participants have more productive conversations.  Ideas include:

  • Training and resources for mentees and mentors
  • Creating a culture that supports mentoring
  • Obtaining senior/executive buy-in, as well as participant buy-in
  • Securing adequate resourcing (people and funds)
  • Having a team help support the effort
  • Surveying mentors and mentees to review impact/self-reflection
  • Providing guidance on having good conversations
  • Supporting them in engagement/starter questions to explore goals

No one said mentoring is easy.  It takes work, commitment, effort, and time.  But everyone says mentoring is worth it.  These ideas can get you started with creating a more effective and worthwhile mentoring program.

Watch River’s Getting the Most from Mentoring Conversations webinar and begin generating your own ideas for how to have more productive and meaningful conversations.

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