Tips for Mentees and Mentors for Better Dialogue
Mentoring can be a truly transformational process for the individuals involved. It can impact a person’s skill, ability, or career direction, which in turn can change their life. For example, my former business partner was one of my mentors who transformed my life. He could see potential in me and encouraged me to obtain my advanced degree in organizational development so that I would have the credentials to go along with my existing abilities in this area. He saw the path in front of me that I didn’t even have on my radar, and he served as a guide to help move me forward.
Mentoring program administrators and leaders can have a hand in these transformative powers by helping to build a sense of belonging and community through mentoring. One critical area for this is through designing and supporting effective communication cycles that mentees and mentors can use in their relationships.
To build a communication cycle for your mentoring program, you should consider three factors.
Mentoring conversations need to have a focal point so that they don’t meander. It is too easy (and common) for conversations between mentees and mentors to get off-track; it’s just human nature. While this freeform style can be generative at times, it does not serve the greater purpose of the mentoring relationship to engage in this behavior during every meeting. Participants can use their time more wisely by agreeing on mentoring goals and then framing their conversations around those goals.
Mentoring administrators and leaders can help participants frame up their conversations by giving them a structure to follow. Encourage them to focus on goals, not objectives. That is, have mentees and mentors put their attention to what they want to accomplish over the next six weeks, or month, or quarter. From there, participants can follow a conversational guide that encourages them to reflect on what they want to accomplish, envision what success could look like, explore options for bringing their goal to reality, and then agree on an action to take in pursuit of their goal. (For more on this, read “Ask Me Anything: The Power of Questions in Learning” from the August 2016 issue of Chief Learning Officer.)
Mentoring conversations should have a rhythm and flow to them. Each time the mentee and mentor meet, they should talk about what actions were taken since their last meeting, what worked, what didn’t work, what they could try next, etc. This becomes a cyclical conversation model that they can follow throughout their relationship. By focusing on the smaller action items, they will make progress toward larger goals.
Administrators can model this type of conversational construct by facilitating a group mentoring relationship where they teach participants how to have effective conversations. This will allow you to model the behavior you want to see in your participants. Check out our River webinar on “Getting the Most from Mentoring Conversations” to learn more about having effective learning conversations.
The idea that mentoring will require too much of a person’s time is often used as an excuse for not participating in mentoring. Because of this objection, many leaders suggest that mentees and mentors meet once a month for one hour. Unfortunately, this may not be the best advice. Much of that hour can be sucked up by people reconnecting and catching up on what has occurred over the past month. That is a lot to cover in one hour.
Rather than focus on meeting only once a month, administrators should encourage people to meet every week for 30 minutes—via video, in person, over the phone, whatever works for the participants. These shorter touchpoints allow mentees and mentors to focus on smaller, incremental steps being taken each week that can lead mentees to their goals and keep the relationship moving along. Each 30-minute meeting can be spent reviewing what actions were taken since the previous week, assessing if progress was made, and generating ideas for how to take the next step toward reaching their goals. Each meeting should end with a concrete action that the participants will take.
By implementing a mentoring conversations model that reflects these three elements for communication, you will be giving your mentees and mentors the critical framework they need to ensure they are having productive and effective conversations in their relationships. To read more about this, be sure to check out my article, “Mentoring: More than Just a Match” in the May 2017 issue of Chief Learning Officer.