Essential mentoring skills
As we go through our lives, we often find ourselves in a mentoring role, but what is mentoring and what are some of the essential skills we might need?
Let's start with a definition. There are many definitions out there, but I particularly like Parsloe's, which is "Mentoring is to support and encourage people to manage their learning so that they may maximise their potential, develop their skills, improve their performance and become the person they want to be".
The term 'Mentor' actually comes from mythology, as Mentor was a trusted and wise advisor in Greek mythology. This explains why we tend to think of a mentor as having more knowledge and experience than the mentee. However, mentoring can also include peer mentoring, which is seen more on the same 'level'.
There are many forms of mentoring, such as more informal discussions with a friend who has experience in the area, a more formal mentor that is allocated to you and who keeps you accountable, and in some cases, a coach who can also cross over into that mentoring space.
Six essential mentoring skills
1. Build trust
The first stage of a mentee-mentor relation is to establish trust. To do this, set the scene by choosing a suitable area, remove distractions, and create an atmosphere that is respectful, giving the mentee your total attention. Trust is also built by doing what you say you are going to, turning up for a session with a mentee on time, and tuning-in to what they are saying. Use effective body language to demonstrate interest; looking at your watch, for example, signals that you are bored. Position yourself at a respectful distance but lean forward, using good eye contact, and reflect what you are hearing so that the mentee feels heard.
One really good way to build trust as an essential skill for mentoring is to ensure that the mentee does not feel judged in any way. It is important to ensure that the mentee feels able to ask questions and that every question is valid. In this way, reassurance is provided that they are free to disclose ideas and opinions to you, and they feel valued.
2. Listen to the mentee's 'story'
One of the most difficult parts of the mentoring process, when you have experience in a subject and want to 'support and encourage people to manage their own learning', is to be able to take a step back and to listen to the mentee's point of view. The doctors I train in mentoring skills find the balance between improving awareness of the mentee's gaps in learning whilst taking a step back to allow the mentee to reflect on their learning - one of the trickiest areas. Giving advice can be helpful, but we help others the most when learning is self-directed, and we help mentees to recognise gaps in their learning by listening to their 'story'.
3. Help the mentee to visualise success
It helps to increase motivation and positivity towards goals when the mentee can visualise themselves performing or achieving in the situation they are working on. If we look at giving a presentation, for example, we can ask the mentee to imagine themselves delivering it, and ask them what they are saying, hearing, seeing, and how people are interacting to it. Some people can't visualise, so it is worth checking this out and working to the mentee's learning style, but if they can there is research to suggest if a situation is visualised it is more likely to go smoothly in reality, and confidence will increase.
4. Enable the mentee to devise action strategies and review progress
It is important to help the mentee devise actions to enable them to move forward to develop to their full potential. This is done as a two-way process by effective questioning to get mentees thinking and working together to produce actions. This is followed by helping them to enable their plan by checking what they want to do, and the methods that will be needed to take them there. The review of progress made is essential and forms the evaluation of what worked, in their opinion, and what they could do more of, less of, or differently.
5. Provide feedback that builds confidence and success
It's important to decide on the most appropriate feedback and invite the mentee to have a say in how they think it is going in the first instance. Effective feedback takes into account specific actions, is wanted and has a positive intention, affirms what the mentee is doing well, and provides constructive suggestions for change. It is a helpful tool to put yourself in their shoes and think to yourself "how would it feel for you"? on the receiving end of your feedback. The setting is also important; no one wants to have feedback in a corridor, for example, where others can overhear or, at the last minute, have it sprung on them.
6. Have your mentee's back
If I ask my teenage daughter "what does an effective mentor use as a particularly effective tool?", she will say "they make me feel safe as they have my back". It can be a scary place when we are making changes in our lives and learning new skills, as we are going out on a limb and often disclosing areas of weakness as well as strengths to our mentors. Knowing that your mentor is sincere, will support you, and back you up is a very essential skill.
I hope this article is helpful. It is a big subject, but these essential skills are a way forward for effective mentoring.
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