Giving help 1
How to start
Your mentoree might be very nervous if you don't know him/her very well. Put your mentoree at ease and see if you can make a friend.
Consider the different kinds of relationship:
- If you are much older than your mentoree, earning respect and confidence is essential. You can't be a peer, and you'll just look silly if you try.
- The relationship will be different if you are in a position of power over the mentoree (e.g. you are their boss). It often puts you in a particular tight spot because you have to maintain your perspective as a supervisor.
- You'll need to set some boundaries if you and the mentoree are of the opposite sex. For example, you shouldn't meet alone where others can't see you.
- A "show-you-how-to-do-something" role has much less intensity than a relationship that might include counseling or personal rebuke.
- A routine meeting for a limited time at the workplace is quite different to a meeting at a good coffee shop where you have no time pressures.
- You are assigned the mentoree, rather than having the relationship grow naturally as a kind of friendship.
Sit down together and discuss how the mentoring relationship will work. You will need to consider:
- How much time can you both give?
- How often will you meet? When and where?
- Could the mentoree need help outside your regular times?
- What kinds of things do you want to talk about?
- What goals do you want to achieve?
- What are your expectations of each other?
- What level of trust and honest do you expect from each other?
- What will you do if the mentoree has a problem that is out of your depth?
In particular, set some ground rules. I'd suggest that:
- Anything personal is confidential.
- Work procedures and anything illegal is not confidential.
- The relationship is voluntary.
- Mentoring partners should not be in the same chain of command.
- The mentor's guidance and counsel does not override that of the supervisor in work-related matters.
- The mentor should have training for the role.
- Write down what you plan to do and how it will work in a mentoring agreement.
- Both mentor and mentoree need to be actively involved.
- Have a 'no-fault divorce' provision where either party can end the relationship any time for any reason, or for no reason.
When the relationship is more personal
You need a different set of skills if the relationship is more personal and has aspects of "counseling for the emotionally healthy". This level of mentoring is certainly not for everyone, and I'd advise that you don't go out of your depth. Refer your mentoree to someone else if this is not for you.
A more personal relationship is especially likely in developing new leaders, because leadership depends greatly on personal growth. New leaders need to learn things like:
- how you perceive and relate to people
- how you cope with change
- how you handle stress
- what motivates you
- your personal goals and vision
- your personal priorities and time-management
- how your personal life relates to your work priorities.
The personal aspect is also important in fields where most of your work is relating to people at a non-superficial level. These include counseling, chaplaincy, Christian ministry, and community work.
You need to make clear the boundaries and expectations of the relationship and get agreement. Can the person telephone you for help? If so, when? For how long? How much extra time can you give? How responsible will the mentoree become for himself/herself? Consider these:
- your role and responsibilities
- the mentoree's role and responsibilities
- limits of the relationship
- your area of expertise
- the involvement of others
- organizational expectations
- reporting requirements
In any case, effective communication and interpersonal skills are essential and you must get them right. These include:
- showing respect for the expertise and background of the mentoree
- showing sensitivity to diversity, disability, culture, gender and ethnic backgrounds
- setting an example of what you teach
- engaging in two-way interaction
- establishing a supportive environment
- using language and concepts appropriate to cultural differences
- accurately interpreting non-verbal messages
- looking at issues from the student's viewpoint.
Watch for cues. Is the mentoree engaged or disengaged? Do they show up every time, or do they miss sessions? Can you detect frustration, distraction, or stress? Have they reached a plateau where they've stopped learning?
Maintain and develop the relationship. As you go, you should grow the relationship and keep both of you actively involved. Make sure you listen carefully if you detect signs of frustration.
In an informal mentoring relationship, many of your meetings may be spontaneous, perhaps even while you're doing something else you enjoy.
The relationship sometimes sours. This might be through fundamentally different opinions, lack of contact, misunderstandings through emails, or critique of work. Your first course of action should be to repair the relationship.