Listening is an essential mentoring skill and, once again, it topped our Wheelhouse Mentoring Survey list as the number one attribute of a good mentor.
Thanks to the responses of our readers (like you!) we also collected the following additional characteristics of good listeners:
- Uses active listening.
- Provides a safe environment for a mentee to share and take risks.
- Demonstrates empathy.
- Picks up on all the subtle (or not so subtle) clues to tailor appropriate responses.
- Is nonjudgmental and has unconditional positive regard for their mentee.
- Keeps an open mind.
- Is truly, authentically interested in the development of their mentee.
- Encourages mentees to come up with solutions themselves by asking probing questions.
- Stays focused on their mentee.
- Possesses the humility to accept that they don’t know all the best ways of doing things.
- Remains fully present in the conversation.
- Listens and learns; doesn’t just share their expertise.
Here’s an example of how listening should work in a mentoring relationship, and why it’s so important:
Kasi wanted someone to listen and understand her concerns and challenges. Jonah, her mentor, got it and got her.
Kasi: “I feel like I’m stuck. I don’t see where I can go and grow in this organization. Maybe I need to go back to school and get an MBA.”
Jonah: “Feeling stuck is no fun. I think everyone feels that way at one time or another in their career. I know I’ve been there. I found, both for me and many others who have shared those feelings, it isn’t always the long range career path. Sometimes it is a short term lull — like what you are doing now doesn’t interest you anymore. Does that make sense?”
Kasi: “Yes it does, I don’t feel like I am working on interesting projects anymore. All the new projects seem to be going to others. I feel like I am being left behind.”
Jonah: “That, I know, is not a good feeling. When you see others get what appears to be the latest and greatest project, it can easily make you second guess yourself. I just want to remind you of what you told me before in our earlier conversations. And that is your supervisor values your work, and you are well-respected. So I don’t believe it has to do with your contribution. Have you talked to your supervisor about these feelings of yours and about a new assignment?”
Kasi: “I haven’t. I guess I had hoped I would be the natural go-to person when something new came up.”
Jonah: “Well, I am sure that might have been your hope, but I can tell you, as a supervisor, that, number one, I am not a mind reader. I don’t always know that someone wants a new assignment, and two, I do tend to rely on people like you who are responsible and can get the job done. I give them free reign to do their work and appreciate that I don’t have to watch over them. I guess this is a reminder for me, too. Not to take their contribution for granted.”
Kasi: “So you think I need to be speaking up more about what I need, not just put my head down and get the job done?”
Jonah: “I do. Let’s give it a try.”
Seems pretty straightforward, right? As you can see, Jonah is a mentor who listens. He refers back to previous conversations, showing he’s invested in Kasi. He also acknowledges what she’s feeling, listens to the words she’s using, and digs deeper into why she’s feeling the way she does.
What’s great about this example, too? It showcases several other top qualities listed in our survey — empathy, focus, nonjudgmental, etc. A truly great mentor combines these top qualities into an unforgettable experience for their mentees!
Key Takeaway: How well are you listening? Use the top 12 qualities in this post to help you benchmark your listening skills.
Taking the time to work on a mentoring relationship is not always easy. But these relationships are truly the heart of any successful mentoring endeavor. In fact, it’s often a prerequisite for success. Mentors and mentees who discuss their relationship expectations end up experiencing exponentially more success than those who don’t.
One mentee, an associate at a large law firm, lamented that the relationship wasn’t working because her mentor focused only on the path to partnership. The mentee told us, “That’s not appealing to me. It’s like preparing for a pie-eating contest where the prize is more pie.” That mentoring pair was ultimately unsuccessful because they didn’t take the time to learn how each other tick.
Here are some questions to ask your mentoring partner that will set a strong foundation for the relationship:
- What motivates you in your career?
- How do you learn best? Do you need time to process alone, or do you process best by “thinking aloud”?
- What are your pet peeves?
- Do you like to read? Are you open to article and/or book suggestions? Would that be welcome or feel burdensome?
- Have you had a mentor/mentee in the past? What worked in that relationship? What did not work?
Missed Tip #1? Find it here. And make sure to come back next month for Tip #3!
Does this mentoring conversation sound familiar?
“When my mentee complains about her VP, I take a small breath. The normal me would start coaching, telling, suggesting, and problem solving. That’s what I am good at. But guess what? That’s not what she is looking for from me, nor does she really need it.
My mentee knows what she needs to do. What she is actually looking for is acknowledgement and support for approach and strategies. So, I’ve learned to don my facilitator hat and start the conversation by asking questions. And I listen. And I learn. I learn what she is thinking. I learn what frustrates her. I learn what she has already tried. I learn what has worked. And mostly I learn what a talented, perceptive, ambitious woman she is. I look for ways to applaud her efforts and her thinking. I hold up a mirror for her and sometimes help her tweak her idea. We both come away having learned something new, along with increased appreciation of our different points of view.”
Conversation should come easy to all of us, right? Wait. Not so fast. What often passes for conversation is sometimes something quite different: information sharing, transactions, question and answer, and even push-back.
Really good mentoring conversation is more about exploring and sharing, rather than telling and reporting. It’s about going deeper, not staying broad and skimming the surface. Good mentoring conversation connects us to one another.
Conversation matters because there is a lot at stake. At the Center for Mentoring Excellence we set high standards for mentoring conversations. We believe really good mentoring depends on a continuum of meaningful conversation. Mentoring partners engage in conversation to grow their relationship, identify learning goals, and work on mentee growth and development. So, you see, there is a lot riding on what you do.
Takeaway: Be brave enough to start a conversation that matters — because it does!
Trust is everything when starting out in a new mentoring relationship — and even when you’re nurturing an existing one! While it’s tempting to dive in and drill down quickly to talk about needs and goals at the first meeting, try to avoid this. Instead, focus first on establishing an open and authentic relationship. It takes time and attention, but in the long run, it’s well worth it. You will have established a deeper, more meaningful, trusting relationship. Here are some things to keep in mind:
- Get to know your mentee, and let your mentee get to know you. To jump start the process, come prepared with a list of questions. What is it you want to know about your mentee as a person? What do you want to know about your mentee’s work context?
- Your mentee needs to relate to you, too. Mentees are more forthcoming when a mentor shares their personal success stories, as well as their struggles. If you’re open and authentic, it invites your mentee to be, too.
Check back soon for “Your Mentoring Year” Tip #2!
How is your year going so far?
With summer right around the corner, we thought it was the perfect time to inject some energy and excitement into your mentoring relationships.
So how about some helpful tips and tools? Just like any other healthy habit, building and sustaining thriving mentoring relationships is a non-stop process, requiring constant care, learning and adjusting.
With this in mind, we’re starting a new program for you — Your Mentoring Year: Mentoring Tips One Month at a Time. Each month we will focus on a mentoring practice, approach or technique that contributes to your mentoring excellence. As part of each month’s tip we’ll discuss why it’s important and how you can specifically apply these practices immediately to enhance your mentoring relationships. It’s both informative and actionable!
After a full year, you can refer back to these monthly tips to assess your effectiveness.
Sound good? Keep an eye out for our first month’s tip early this week!
The Center for Mentoring Excellence has conducted more than 200 interviews with mentors and mentees in formal mentoring programs around the globe using a process we created called Touch Base Interview (TBI) Coaching Sessions™. These coaching sessions offer mentors and mentees confidential, just-in-time coaching and support at critical milestones in the mentoring cycle. This works to ensure mentoring success by helping mentoring partners stay on track, grow and develop. (more…)
Being a mentor (and a mentee) often means working with and building relationships with members of other generations — both older and younger. Here’s your go-to mentoring guide for cross-generational mentoring relationships: (more…)
One of the highlights of this past year for us has been working with the Dallas County Community College District (DCCCD) to establish a successful mentoring culture.
DCCCD launched its Network Mentoring Culture in August by convening the Chancellor’s staff and presidents, HR representatives and other college leaders with a primary goal: to create a mentoring culture.
According to George Marquez, DCCCD’s Executive District Director of Talent Development and Division of Talent Central:
“From my perspective, successful employee engagement into the DCCCD system occurs with talent development programs and a mentoring system. We sincerely believe that the mentor component is the strongest bond that we can have in any of our employee programs because mentors provide a safe way to extend the skills and knowledge of employees through encouragement and support. Having a system of mentors also allows us to strengthen our succession planning.”
A kickoff training for Chancellors Fellows and their mentors followed a day-long consultation with DCCCD leaders.
In October we certified 18 DCCCD mentoring workshop facilitators (from seven colleges, across three locations) to conduct Starting Strong: What Mentors Need to Know and Do™ based on the book Starting Strong.
Newly certified DCCCD Starting Strong facilitators.
We were, and continue to be, impressed with the passion, commitment and talented leaders we had the privilege of certifying. Their individual contributions made the certification such a warm and welcoming experience for everyone!
Lory Fischler, Dr. Lois J. Zachary and Lisa Fain presenting their memento.
In September we had the privilege of working with UN Women as it launched its first formal leadership development mentoring program in Cairo, Egypt. Participants from the Ivory Coast, Egypt, Uganda, Moldova, Albania, Liberia, South Africa, Rwanda, New Delhi, Istanbul, Santo Domingo, Panama, Brussels, Copenhagen and Geneva joined us for the mentoring kickoff training.
UN Women mentees volunteered for this global initiative for a variety of reasons: They were looking to invest in their own development and take their leadership to the next level. They wanted career guidance. And they wanted candid, safe feedback. These were the things they worked on — things that would really matter!
Like other mentees we’ve worked with, this team came to mentoring with the very same concerns and questions. They wondered:
- Will I be worthy of a senior leader’s time?
- Will I be able to accomplish enough during their mentoring timetable to make the investment valuable?
- Will I feel comfortable and be able to build trust with a leader I don’t know?
- Will the feedback I receive be confidential and useful?
- Will my mentor have time in their demanding schedule to connect with me?
However, we did find some unique challenges for mentoring pairs in third-world countries, especially when trying to connect across time zones. Poor quality Internet service and gaps in time zones can make communication particularly difficult. Even so, mentoring has been value-added for these mentees, who say they appreciate the support provided by mentors and the opportunity mentoring gives them to reflect on themselves, their development and their future.
UN Women is the United Nations entity that promotes gender equality and the empowerment of women. Its Mentoring Program is designed to grow its workforce by giving mentees access to role models, tapping into networks and increasing visibility. It also helps mentors develop key leadership skills, giving them the opportunity to directly support the next generation of UN Women.