Mentoring – Essential Skills

Mentoring is especially important now, because when we are so incredibly busy with our work and personal lives we can lose sight of what it all means, why we do what we do – our sense of purpose. We need to take time out to reflect on what’s happening, where we’re going and what’s really important.

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Mentoring then is often a form of reflection, thinking out loud to process our thoughts.

What We Need From Mentors

When we have a conversation with a mentor, we want to be able speak freely. Sometimes we’ll share an issue or feelings that we just need to ventilate. All we need is someone who’ll listen while we get it off our chest. Other times we have a problem we need to resolve or a goal we want to achieve. Then, a mentor helps us talk it through. They may simply act as a sounding board so that we think out loud and bounce our ideas off them or they may be more active, contributing information and ideas of their own.

 What Goes Wrong

Unfortunately, an unskilled mentor jumps in too quickly with advice! It’s a natural response and it stems from our human desire to help and be of service but it’s wrong. Giving advice too soon builds a wall between people.

You’ve experienced this if you’ve ever gone home after a tough day and been lucky enough to have someone hand you a cup of tea (or glass of wine) while you unburden yourself. Quite often that person jumps in with “you should” or “why don’t you” offering what they think is helpful advice and opinions, but how do you feel?

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Unwanted advice builds barriers. Even when we ask for advice, if it’s given prematurely it creates an obstacle. There are three main reasons advice given too early is a problem:

  1. Given a safe space, empathy and good listening we can often come up with our own solutions. When we do, we are much more likely to implement them.
  2. When one person gives another advice it automatically sets up one as better, smarter and more powerful than the other. Consciously or unconsciously, the recipient reacts to this status imbalance. They feel small. They can be disempowered which is the opposite of what we want from mentoring.
  3. The problem first mentioned is not always the actual issue. The person may be describing symptoms, not causes of a problem. They may be unaware of an underlying issue that’s really what’s bothering them and if you respond with solutions too quickly you may be answering the wrong question and they (and you) never get a chance to discover what’s really going on.

Ask Before You Tell, Listen Before You Speak.

Of course there are times when advice is sought and welcomed, occasions when a mentor’s opinion or experience should be shared. But what we know is that mentoring today is more about asking questions and listening than telling people what to do.

Mentors need to understand that giving advice is an important but small part of what they have to offer. The essential skills of mentoring are:

  1. Being present
  2. Listening, and
  3. Asking questions

It can be really difficult to hold back from offering advice but the rewards for both mentoree and mentor are worth it. So it is important to educate mentors in their role and these essential skills. That way mentoring works!

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Want a cost-effective way to educate your mentors and mentorees?

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Mentoring Works founder, Ann Rolfe has distilled the essentials of mentoring into short, succinct videos. Details here.

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About Ann Rolfe

Ann Rolfe is internationally recognised as Australia's leading specialist in mentoring, and is available for speaking, training and consulting. Here Ann shares her knowledge and allows you to ask your most pressing questions about mentoring.

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