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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 April 11, 2019

How to Improve Communication Skills for Workplace Success

How to Improve Communication Skills for Workplace Success

Possessing strong communication skills will help you in every phase of your life. This is especially true in the workplace.

I have personally worked with several leaders who were masters of communication. A few were wonderful speakers who could tell a great story and get everyone in the room engaged. Those of us in attendance would walk away feeling inspired and eager to help with what came next. Others were very skilled at sharing a clear direction and job expectations.

I knew exactly what was expected of me and how to achieve my goals. This was the foundation of an energized and vibrant role I was in. What I have found is strong communication skills are incredibly helpful and sometimes critical in how well we perform at work.

Here we will take a look at how to improve communication skills for workplace success.

How Communication Skills Help Your Success

Strong communication skills pave the way for success in many ways. Let’s look at a few of the big ones.

Create a Positive Experience

Here are two examples of how well developed communication skills helps create a positive experience:

When I first moved to the city I now live in, I began a job search. Prior to my first live interview, I was told an address to go to. Upon arriving at the address provided, I drove around and around attempting to find the location. After 15 minutes of circling and looking for the address, I finally grabbed a parking spot and set out on foot.

What I discovered was the address was actually down an alley and only had the number over the door. No sign for the actual company. The person that gave me those very unclear directions provided a bad experience for me.

Had they communicated the directions to get there in a clear manner, my experience would have been much better. Instead the entire experience started off poorly and colored the entire meeting.

As a recruiter, I frequently provide potential candidates with information about a job I’m speaking to them about. In order to do this, I also provide a picture of the overall company, the group they might be joining, and how their role fits in and impacts the entire company.

Time and time again I have been told by candidates that I have provided the clearest picture of a company and role they have ever heard. They have a positive experience when I clearly communicate to them. Even when the position does not work out for them, often times they will want to stay in touch with me due to the open communication and beneficial experience they had during the interviewing process.

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Strong communication skills will provide a positive experience in virtually any interaction you have with someone.

Help Leadership Skills

It’s certainly a skill all its own to be able to lead others.

Being a mentor and guiding others towards success is a major hallmark of great leaders. Another characteristic of effective leaders is the ability to communicate clearly.

As I referenced above, having a leader who can plainly articulate the company’s mission and direction goes a really long way towards being the Captain of the boat that others want to follow. It’s like saying “here’s our destination and this is how we are going to get there” in a way that everyone can get on board with.

Another critical component of everyone helping to sail the boat in the right direction is knowing what your portion is all about. How are you helping the boat move towards its destination in the manner than is consistent with the leaders’ vision?

If you have a boss or a manager that can show you what it takes for not only you to be successful, but also how your performance helps the company’s success then you’ve got a winner. A boss with superior communication skills.

Build Better Teams

Most of us work in teams of some sort or another. During the course of my career, I have led teams up to 80 and also been an individual contributor.

In my individual contributor roles, I have been part of a larger team. Even if you are in business for yourself, you have to interact with others in one manner or another.

If you have strong communication skills, it helps to build better teams. This is true whether you are in an IT department with 100 other fellow programmers or if you own your own business and have customers or vendors you communicate with.

When you showcase your robust ability to communicate well with others while interacting with them, you are building a better team.

Now let’s jump in to how to improve communication skills to help you pave the way for your workplace success.

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How to Improve Communication Skills for Workplace Success

There are many tips, tricks, and techniques to improve communication skills. I don’t want to overwhelm you with too much information, so let’s focus on the things that will provide the biggest return on your time investment.

Most of these tips will be fairly easy to become aware of but will take time and effort to implement. So let’s go!

1. Listen

Ever heard the saying you have two ears and one mouth for a reason? If you haven’t, then here’s the reason:

Being a good listener is half the equation to being a good communicator.

People who have the ability to really listen to someone can then actually answer questions in a meaningful way. If you don’t make the effort to actively listen, then you are really doing yourself and the other person a disservice in the communication department.

Know that person who is chomping at the bit to open his or her mouth the second you stop talking? Don’t be that person. They haven’t listened to at least 1/2 of what you’ve said. Therefore the words that spill out of their mouth are going to be about 1/2 relevant to what you just said.

Listen to someone completely and be comfortable with short periods of silence. Work on your listening skills first and foremost.

2. Know Your Audience

Knowing your audience is another critical component to having strong communication skills. The way you interact with your manager should be different than how you interact with your kids. This isn’t to say you need to be a different person with everyone you interact with. Far from it.

Here is a good way to think about it:

Imagine using your the same choice of words and body language you use with your spouse while interacting with your boss. That puts things in a graphic light!

You want to ensure you are using the type of communication most relevant to your audience.

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3. Minimize

I have lunch with a business associate about 3 times a year. We’ve been talking for several years now about putting a business deal together.

He is one of those people that simply overwhelms others with a lot of words. Sometimes when I ask him a question, I get buried beneath such an avalanche of words that I’m more confused than when I asked the question. Needless to say this is most likely a large portion of why we never put the deal together.

Don’t be like my lunch business associate. The goal of talking to or communicating with someone is to share actual information. The goal is not to confuse someone, it’s to provide clarity in many cases.

State what needs to be stated as succinctly as possible. That doesn’t mean you can’t have some pleasant conversation about the weather too.

The point is to not create such an onslaught of words and information that the other person walks away more confused than when they started.

4. Over Communicate

So this probably sounds completely counter intuitive to what I just wrote about minimizing your communication. It seems like it might be but it’s not.

What I mean by over communicating is ensuring that the other person understands the important parts of what you are sharing with them. This can be done simply yet effectively. Here’s a good example:

Most companies have open enrollment for benefits for the employees in the fall. The company I work for has open enrollment from November 1 to 15. The benefits department will send out a communication to all employees around October 1st, letting them know open enrollment is right around the corner and any major changes that year. There’s also a phone number and email for people to contact them with any questions.

Two weeks later, we all get a follow up email with basically the same information. We get a 3rd communication the week before open enrollment and another one 1 day before it starts.

Finally we get 2 emails during enrollment reminding us when open enrollment ends.

There’s minimal information, it’s more of a reminder. This is effective over communication.

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5. Body Language

The final critical component to how to improve communication skills for workplace success is body language. This is something most of us have heard about before but, a reminder is probably a good idea.

When I am in a meeting with someone I am comfortable with, I tend to kind of slouch down in my chair and cross my arms. When I catch myself doing this, I sit up straight and uncross my arms. I remember that crossing arms can many times be interpreted as a sign of disagreement or conflict.

In general, the best rule of thumb is to work towards having open body language whenever possible at work. This means relaxing your posture, not crossing your arms, and looking people in the eye when speaking with them.

When you are speaking in front of others, stand up straight and speak in a clear voice. This will convey confidence in your words.

Conclusion

Possessing strong communication skills will help you in many facets of your life and most certainly in the workplace.

Good communication helps create better teams, positive experiences with those we interact with, and are critical for leadership.

There are numerous tactics and techniques to be used to improve communication skills. Here we’ve reviewed how to improve communication skills for workplace success.

Now go communicate your way to success.

More Resources About Effective Communication

Featured photo credit: HIVAN ARVIZU via unsplash.com

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