How you relate to your mentee may be even more important than the material you cover. Expressing a genuine interest in your mentee is critical to building a strong relationship. This interest is expressed by asking thoughtful, engaging questions; also by listening carefully to your mentee's comments and responses to questions you ask them. Learning about your mentee's interests, work activities, duties, and personality can help you establish a solid foundation upon which to build your relationship.
Below are some tips to hit the ground running:
- Personal commitment. Mentors have a genuine desire to be part of other people's lives, to help them with tough decisions and to see them become the best they can be. They have to be invested in the mentoring relationship, over the long haul, to be there long enough to make a difference.
- Respect for individuals. Mentors should not approach the mentee with the attitude that their own ways are better or that participants need to be rescued. Mentors who convey a sense of respect and equal dignity in the relationship win the trust of their mentees and the privilege of being advisors to them.
- Ability to listen and to accept different points of view. Most people can find someone who will give advice or express opinions. It's much harder to find someone who will suspend his or her own judgment and really listen. Mentors often help simply by listening, asking thoughtful questions and giving mentees an opportunity to explore their own thoughts with a minimum of interference. When people feel accepted, they are more likely to ask for and respond to good ideas.
- Ability to empathize with another person's challenges. Effective mentors can feel with people without feeling sorry for them. Even without having had the same life and work experiences, they can empathize with their mentee's feelings while bringing a diverse perspective to the situation.
- Flexibiity and openness. Effective mentors recognize that relationships take time to develop and that communication is a two-way street. They are willing to take time to get to know their mentees, to learn new things that are important to their mentees, and even to be changed by their relationship2.
Remember, a successful mentoring relationship offers something for both you and your mentee. Try to identify what you might be able to bring to the relationship, making this part of your conversation. Making an effort toward creating a positive first meeting with your mentee will in turn help you create a positive mentoring relationship in the long run.1
2 MENTOR/National Mentoring Partnership.