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5 Tips for Becoming a Great Mentor

5 Tips for Becoming a Great Mentor

Ask anyone if they want a Mentor and after a few minutes of them thinking about who their own personal “Yoda” could be, they all answer yes. Ask anyone what qualities they should look for in a mentor, for themselves, and the answer becomes a little more convoluted. Follow-up both questions with how they would go about becoming a mentor and you could be waiting for awhile to get an answer back from them.

Being a mentor to someone – whether it be through work, life, sports, etc – is not an easy task. After all, you now have someone looking to you for answers to the questions they have and seeking lifesaving guidance from you on where they should go, what decisions should they make, where should they focus, etc, etc. The questions can be endless.

To top it off, you might be a mentor and not even know it. Sure some positions such as teacher, manager, leader imply that you might be in that position as a result of your employment, but you could have been thrust into this position solely as a result of “being there” or having sat beside a colleague for years or because you took the time to have coffee with that person 3 weeks ago.

Whichever the reason, the fact that you have recognized that you now occupy this role, the problem now becomes – how do you become a great mentor and really help your mentee(s) in guiding them on their path.

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1. Experience

When seeking out a mentor, we seek to find someone who is on a similar path as we are.  Someone who has gone through the ups and downs of what we have and navigated the uncharted waters. They don’t need to have done it all, but they need to have had some experience in where you are going.

This is an asset for any person wanting to be a mentor. For instance, I could not mentor anyone in the field of drawing as I haven’t really achieved anything of significance or invested any time in this field beyond my own interests. As a software developer, I’ve invested countless hours across varieties of projects and platforms that I could very easily slip into that role providing guidance to junior members of our team.

If you are looking to become a mentor, focus on an area or field where you have experience and knowledge to fall back on. As a side benefit to your experience and knowledge, you most likely would have a network of individuals you could call upon should a problem be raised with your Mentee that they might have suggestions for.

2. Listen

We all have our views on the world and we all have a good idea of what does and doesn’t work in our fields of interest.  The Mentor/Mentee relationship is a symbiotic one where it’s not meant to be a completely one-way discussion – “here do this, keep doing this, don’t do what you were going to do”. The goal of the relationship is for the Mentee to learn and grow.

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To do this, you must train yourself to listen to their problems and challenges and suggest courses of action that don’t give them the immediate answer they so insistently desire. Your Mentee cannot learn and grow if you are telling them exactly what to do and never giving them a chance to fail. Listening to your Mentee’s struggles can be incredibly hard to do because even though they think they know what the problem is, it’s up to you to tell them what it really is.

3. Push

Building off being able to listen to your Mentee is knowing when to push them. After a period of time working together, you’ll know when they are starting to slack, starting to wane and eventually becoming happy with the comfortable spot they are in. Why rock the boat? You are there TO rock the boat, to push them into the uncomfortable, to give them a kick when everything is going fine so they can feel that sense of urgency that got them there in the first place.

I’ve worked with a few Mentees where they have outright complained about the pushes I gave them to get help them achieve a goal. But when they achieved that goal, their first response was to say thank me for giving them the push they needed. If you are ever in doubt as to whether you should provide a push, always remember why you became invested in this relationship in the first place – was it to make a new friend or help someone grow (hint: it’s the latter).

4. Support

At some point during your relationship, your Mentee is going to make a decision that you probably would have never made. Or they might do something that you warned them would fail, but they decided to do it regardless. And then, while sitting back and waiting, you receive the harried call from your Mentee that all has failed, the call they made was the wrong one, they should have listened to you, now they don’t know what to do, etc, etc.

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As any other person might be inclined to do you could offer up the never productive “I told you so”, but as a mentor, you can never do this. They are coming to you now, in their time of need, for guidance and support in what they should do next.  If you’ve been there, great help them get out a bit faster than you, but don’t take it all away. They need to learn, but, in this case, they also need your support to get through and get back in the game.

5. Letting Go

At someone point in your relationship, you will reach the point where it’s now time to let your Mentee go.  Not because they asked you to or because the time of your engagement is up, but because it is time for them to move on and grow.  This is the hardest part of being a mentor when you have invested so much time in this person, and now it’s time to part ways for the only reason that for them to continue to grow, they must do so without you (or with a different mentor).

Letting a Mentee go on their own, either by leaving your team, employ, etc is not an easy task  – one need only look to all the mothers crying when as their children leave the nest to go to school far away at the beginning of a new school year – but it’s necessary. Necessary because if they do not go, do not leave, then they will never grow and all that you would have taught them would have been for naught.

The hidden quality throughout all of this is trust – trust between both the mentor and mentee. Try as you might, if you don’t have that base quality of trust between two individuals trying to grow and become better, everything else falls down – your words becoming meaningless, your actions ignored and your suggestions questions. How do you establish this trust when it is not there, to begin with? Through small, consistent, dedicated actions that prove your commitment to not only wanting to mentor this person but from wanting to learn how to become a better mentor from working with this person.

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Every relationship I have had in a Mentor/Mentee scenario has helped me with the next that came after – because I grew, I learned, I was pushed to become better for them and when the time was ready, I knew when I had to let go and push them to do something different. If you can, if you have the opportunity, being a mentor can be one of the greatest things you’ll ever do, being able to work so closely with someone and watching them grow and helping them achieve your goals – it is one of those things in life where both sides get more than what they put into it.

Featured photo credit: Ed Gregory via stokpic.com

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Greg Thomas

Software Architect

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Last Updated on January 15, 2021

7 Ways To Have More Confident Body Language

7 Ways To Have More Confident Body Language

The popular idiomatic saying that “actions speak louder than words” has been around for centuries, but even to this day, most people struggle with at least one area of nonverbal communication. Consequently, many of us aspire to have more confident body language but don’t have the knowledge and tools necessary to change what are largely unconscious behaviors.

Given that others’ perceptions of our competence and confidence are predominantly influenced by what we do with our faces and bodies, it’s important to develop greater self-awareness and consciously practice better posture, stance, eye contact, facial expressions, hand movements, and other aspects of body language.

Posture

First things first: how is your posture? Let’s start with a quick self-assessment of your body.

  • Are your shoulders slumped over or rolled back in an upright posture?
  • When you stand up, do you evenly distribute your weight or lean excessively to one side?
  • Does your natural stance place your feet relatively shoulder-width apart or are your feet and legs close together in a closed-off position?
  • When you sit, does your lower back protrude out in a slumped position or maintain a straight, spine-friendly posture in your seat?

All of these are important considerations to make when evaluating and improving your posture and stance, which will lead to more confident body language over time. If you routinely struggle with maintaining good posture, consider buying a posture trainer/corrector, consulting a chiropractor or physical therapist, stretching daily, and strengthening both your core and back muscles.

Facial Expressions

Are you prone to any of the following in personal or professional settings?

  • Bruxism (tight, clenched jaw or grinding teeth)
  • Frowning and/or furrowing brows
  • Avoiding direct eye contact and/or staring at the ground

If you answered “yes” to any of these, then let’s start by examining various ways in which you can project confident body language through your facial expressions.

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1. Understand How Others Perceive Your Facial Expressions

A December 2020 study by UC Berkeley and Google researchers utilized a deep neural network to analyze facial expressions in six million YouTube clips representing people from over 140 countries. The study found that, despite socio-cultural differences, people around the world tended to use about 70% of the same facial expressions in response to different emotional stimuli and situations.[1]

The study’s researchers also published a fascinating interactive map to demonstrate how their machine learning technology assessed various facial expressions and determined subtle differences in emotional responses.

This study highlights the social importance of facial expressions because whether or not we’re consciously aware of them—by gazing into a mirror or your screen on a video conferencing platform—how we present our faces to others can have tremendous impacts on their perceptions of us, our confidence, and our emotional states. This awareness is the essential first step towards

2. Relax Your Face

New research on bruxism and facial tension found the stresses and anxieties of Covid-19 lockdowns led to considerable increases in orofacial pain, jaw-clenching, and teeth grinding, particularly among women.[2]

The National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research estimates that more than 10 million Americans alone have temporomandibular joint dysfunction (TMJ syndrome), and facial tension can lead to other complications such as insomnia, wrinkles, dry skin, and dark, puffy bags under your eyes.[3])

To avoid these unpleasant outcomes, start practicing progressive muscle relaxation techniques and taking breaks more frequently throughout the day to moderate facial tension.[4] You should also try out some biofeedback techniques to enhance your awareness of involuntary bodily processes like facial tension and achieve more confident body language as a result.[5]

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3. Improve Your Eye Contact

Did you know there’s an entire subfield of kinesic communication research dedicated to eye movements and behaviors called oculesics?[6] It refers to various communication behaviors including direct eye contact, averting one’s gaze, pupil dilation/constriction, and even frequency of blinking. All of these qualities can shape how other people perceive you, which means that eye contact is yet another area of nonverbal body language that we should be more mindful of in social interactions.

The ideal type (direct/indirect) and duration of eye contact depends on a variety of factors, such as cultural setting, differences in power/authority/age between the parties involved, and communication context. Research has shown that differences in the effects of eye contact are particularly prominent when comparing East Asian and Western European/North American cultures.[7]

To improve your eye contact with others, strive to maintain consistent contact for at least 3 to 4 seconds at a time, consciously consider where you’re looking while listening to someone else, and practice eye contact as much as possible (as strange as this may seem in the beginning, it’s the best way to improve).

3. Smile More

There are many benefits to smiling and laughing, and when it comes to working on more confident body language, this is an area that should be fun, low-stakes, and relatively stress-free.

Smiling is associated with the “happiness chemical” dopamine and the mood-stabilizing hormone, serotonin. Many empirical studies have shown that smiling generally leads to positive outcomes for the person smiling, and further research has shown that smiling can influence listeners’ perceptions of our confidence and trustworthiness as well.

4. Hand Gestures

Similar to facial expressions and posture, what you do with your hands while speaking or listening in a conversation can significantly influence others’ perceptions of you in positive or negative ways.

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It’s undoubtedly challenging to consciously account for all of your nonverbal signals while simultaneously trying to stay engaged with the verbal part of the discussion, but putting in the effort to develop more bodily awareness now will make it much easier to unconsciously project more confident body language later on.

5. Enhance Your Handshake

In the article, “An Anthropology of the Handshake,” University of Copenhagen social anthropology professor Bjarke Oxlund assessed the future of handshaking in wake of the Covid-19 pandemic:[8]

“Handshakes not only vary in function and meaning but do so according to social context, situation and scale. . . a public discussion should ensue on the advantages and disadvantages of holding on to the tradition of shaking hands as the conventional gesture of greeting and leave-taking in a variety of circumstances.”

It’s too early to determine some of the ways in which Covid-19 has permanently changed our social norms and professional etiquette standards, but it’s reasonable to assume that handshaking may retain its importance in American society even after this pandemic. To practice more confident body language in the meantime, the video on the science of the perfect handshake below explains what you need to know.

6. Complement Your Verbals With Hand Gestures

As you know by now, confident communication involves so much more than simply smiling more or sounding like you know what you’re talking about. What you do with your hands can be particularly influential in how others perceive you, whether you’re fidgeting with an object, clenching your fists, hiding your hands in your pockets, or calmly gesturing to emphasize important points you’re discussing.

Social psychology researchers have found that “iconic gestures”—hand movements that appear to be meaningfully related to the speaker’s verbal content—can have profound impacts on listeners’ information retention. In other words, people are more likely to engage with you and remember more of what you said when you speak with complementary hand gestures instead of just your voice.[9]

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Further research on hand gestures has shown that even your choice of the left or right hand for gesturing can influence your ability to clearly convey information to listeners, which supports the notion that more confident body language is readily achievable through greater self-awareness and deliberate nonverbal actions.[10]

Final Takeaways

Developing better posture, enhancing your facial expressiveness, and practicing hand gestures can vastly improve your communication with other people. At first, it will be challenging to consciously practice nonverbal behaviors that many of us are accustomed to performing daily without thinking about them.

If you ever feel discouraged, however, remember that there’s no downside to consistently putting in just a little more time and effort to increase your bodily awareness. With the tips and strategies above, you’ll be well on your way to embracing more confident body language and amplifying others’ perceptions of you in no time.

More Tips on How to Develop a Confident Body Language

Featured photo credit: Maria Lupan via unsplash.com

Reference

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