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Ask Liz: Advice for a mentor

Ask Liz: Advice for a mentor
I recently signed-up to be a mentor at my agency and had my first session with my mentee last week which went well but I did most of the talking! Can you offer any advice on how best to encourage my mentee to open up?

The great thing about being a mentor is that you can offer advice but the key thing is to listen and ask questions. Please remember it is their agenda – not yours!

There are lots of definition of a mentor and the one I like is:-

“The Mentor’s role is to provide a spectrum of learning & supporting behaviours, from challenging and being a critical friend to being a role model, from helping to build networks and develop personal resourcefulness to simply being there to listen, from helping people to work out what they want to achieve through to how they will bring change about...”

The quality of people’s thinking improves when they have the space and the time to think. So resist the temptation to engage with exchange thinking , and allow them the space to think.

The skills of an effective mentor are:-

Good listening Skills - We all think we listen, but how present are we when someone is talking  to us?

  • Encourage two-way exchange of information
  • Actively Listen – stop thinking about what is for dinner tonight and pay full attention – it is the greatest gift you can give someone
  • Ask challenging & though provoking questions -  use the who, what when, where, how questions to get them talking – avoid closed questions of the “do you” type. Or rush in with ”oh, I did that once..” or “let me tell you what happened to me with that, when I…”
  • “Tell me more about that” is always a good way to keep them talking
  • Check out their assumptions – How do they know that something is true? What stops them from doing x,y or z? How are they limiting themselves?

Guidance - Consider development (& training opportunities)

  • Help to identify obstacles to progression & appropriate possibilities – “what might happen if you tried x” “how do you know that y is true?”

Brokering - Look to expand your Mentee’s network of professional contacts (with permission & where appropriate) – who else might they be able to talk to?

  • Inspire
  • Share best practice & information
  • Lead by example – you are their role model; your behaviours matter

Here are some questions that might help to get you started:-

1. What is it that you really want to be and do?
This question is about aspiration and purpose. What do they want to focus on – what is their goal for the mentoring session?

2. What are you doing really well that is helping you get there?
We are often not very good at knowing who we are and what we are good at. This question helps identify what someone  is naturally good at doing. A mentee may need time and help to identify this.

3. What are you not doing well that is preventing you from getting there?
What is getting in the way. This may be true, not true or possibly true.

4. What will you do differently tomorrow to meet those challenges?
Is your mentee spending the right time on the right things? Very often folk stay in their comfort zones. You can help your mentee open up to the things that are holding them back. How are they spending  their time?

5. How can I help / where do you need the most help?
Having listened to the answers to questions 1-4, this question should help determine how you can best help someone achieve the goal.

And if you really rather like this you can think about signing up to be an IPA mentor!

Good luck with your new skills!

Last updated 10/03/2016

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