In the time-poor environment that we have created, mentorees are very concerned about wasting their mentor’s time. Mentorees are often hesitant to contact their mentor or schedule meetings when they have no burning issue to discuss. This is a mistake.
You might feel there’s no point meeting at times when you have no problems. When you are working toward longer-term goals and are progressing but have no current actions or outcomes to discuss, a meeting may seem unnecessary. And it’s easy to skip meeting if you are very busy with day-to-day activities and haven’t focused on your personal development since the last mentoring conversation.
It is good to have an agenda for mentoring conversations, even if it’s just a few bullet points, because it shows respect for the mentor’s time, it helps maintain focus and provides both parties with a sense of accomplishment and completion. However, a lack of an agenda should not stop a mentoring conversation. Mentors may need to take the lead to reassure their partner of their commitment because mentoring conversations when it seems “there’s nothing to talk about” may be vital.
Mentoring conversations are not just about solving problems or making decisions. They are about the availability of a person, with whom to have a conversation that provokes creative and critical thinking. A key benefit of mentoring is the relationship. However, the relationship needs to be established and well maintained if problems or important decisions are to be confidently shared when they do arise.
Conversations about what is going well are extremely useful too. Celebrating success is not simply a feel-good exercise. The purpose of mentoring is to create and capture insight, then use it. Reviewing positive outcomes and satisfaction will reveal and reinforce the constructive behaviours that led to success and clarify personal values and priorities. By listening and questioning a mentor can facilitate much greater awareness and positive actions that will enhance the mentoree’s life.
People often use mentoring to identify career direction and work towards it. These goals are not usually achieved over night but as a result of specific actions over time. So naturally, there will be pauses between. In a mentoring program over a finite period, the early momentum can come to a halt after initial action steps are implemented. Some mentoring relationships can survive long gaps between contacts but some won’t. People wonder how best to get value in the interim.
It is useful to have a “default agenda” a standard format that produces constructive conversation. This could be as simple as reviewing the week/fortnight/month’s highlights and low points and accomplishments. The mentor may ask a series of questions that prompt reflection and learning, such as: “what’s working well for you, right now?” and “what could be improved?” My mentor asks: “what is your greatest challenge, right now?” A new, short-term goal and actions, or at least awareness and focus, often result.
No matter what qualifications, age or career stage one has achieved, on-going personal development is a must. Even if an individual development plan negotiated with a manager, linked to performance appraisal and formalised, taking personal responsibility for self-directed learning and development is essential. It is easy, to let the demands of day-to-day work and hectic life style get in the way of personal aspirations and our growth as a human being. If we lose sight of what is truly important, if we have no sense of purpose, life can become a meaningless round of chores interspersed with moments of instant gratification.
Mentoring conversations are all about discovering meaning and purpose – for mentors as well as mentorees. The mentor might share his or her own life-lessons and insights that led to personal development. This can be immensely valuable to both parties .
The social support offered by relationships, should not be underestimated in the too-busy life so many of us lead. When you don’t have time, or have nothing to talk about may be exactly the time to have a mentoring conversation! Investing time really communicating another human being, taking time out to pause and reflect or simply stoping to smell the roses (or the coffee) is never a waste of time! That’s how mentoring works.
The author of this article is Ann Rolfe, and was first published in 2010 on www.mentoring-works.com.
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