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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 February 20, 2019

How to Master Effective Communication Skills at Work and Home

How to Master Effective Communication Skills at Work and Home

Possessing effective communication skills is a powerful tool to have. Effective communication skills are essential to success in many aspects and areas of your life. There are a lot of jobs that require you to be a good communicator.

Strong communication skills help you enjoy better relationships with friends and family. Being an effective communicator will give you advantages in more ways than you can imagine.

Conversely, being poor at communicating will negatively impact your life.

Let’s take a look at how to master effective communication skills at work and home.

What is Effective Communication?

Probably a good place to start is to paint a picture of what clear communication is.

Effective communication is defined as verbal speech or other communication methods to get your point across. Sounds pretty simple, right? It does but there’s more to it than that.

It’s really about how all of us interact and communicate in every aspect of our lives. It’s the ability to say something at the right time; to be able to get multiple people on the same page in a group decision. It’s how that one friend of yours who plans most of the activities is able to get everyone to the same place at the same time.

Non-verbal communication is key to being effective as well. It’s the ability to have your body language say the right thing so the person you’re speaking to knows your listening.

Effective communicators don’t react to situations with high emotion. It means not having to say something all the time in every situation. You are even being an effective communicator when you show up to pick your daughter up from the mall when you say you will. You are communicating to her that she can rely on you.

Are You a Poor Communicator?

Before we get too deep into how to be a master communicator, let’s take a look at your communication skills.

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If you find yourself agreeing with a lot of these, you might want to sharpen your communication skills.

  • You’re constantly interrupting – Hey, I know, we all want to be listened to. We all want to get our point across. Most importantly, we want to be understood. If you find yourself interrupting all the time you aren’t listening enough.
  • Doing too much – Many of us are master multi-taskers. It’s not good if you are communicating with someone. When you try to do too much while speaking with someone, you aren’t paying attention to what they are saying. Lack of focus is bad.
  • Rambling – I know of several people I work with who do this constantly. I honestly dread having to speak to them. The worst part is even though a lot of words are coming out of their mouths, they really aren’t saying anything. I’m more confused after they answer my question.
  • Not being direct – Nothing wrong with emails or reports. However, if you can convey the same information quickly and directly to someone, it is much more effective. Why write a 2 paragraph email when you can pick up the phone and say the same information in 2 sentences?
  • Always talking about yourself – Everybody likes to relate things to their own experiences. It draws us together and helps us create a feeling of sharing and community. If you are always coloring someone else’s conversation with a similar situation in your life, people will think you are making everything about you. Don’t be that person!
  • Using a lot of qualifiers – Qualifiers are fine for the most part. When you use them as a crutch most of the time when you speak, it’s not helping your communication. Sometimes, we do this to makes things seem “softer”. Saying things like “I don’t want you to take this the wrong way but…” or “I know what you’re thinking but…” over and over doesn’t help you communicate.
  • Your ears don’t work – If you don’t listen well, you can’t answer someone correctly. In order to be an effective communicator, you have to understand what someone else is saying to you. If you don’t listen with purpose you will only have part of the picture.
  • Bad body language – The importance of body language is well documented. If you don’t look at someone when they are speaking, it appears that you don’t really care what’s being said. This makes people feel like you don’t care what they are saying and it’s not important to you. Other bad body language examples include always crossing your arms and not looking someone in the eyes.

What Effective Communication Can Do For You

Let’s take a look at how being able to effectively communicate can help you at work and in your personal relationships.

Work

  • Better client relationships – You certainly want a great communicator to be handling your client relationships. Strong communicators represent both the client and your company is the best manner.
  • Higher employee engagement – Pretty critical if you are a leader or a manager of people. An engaging and interactive communicator in a leadership position is wonderful for employees.
  • Getting better buy in from others – This is great whether you are a manager or individual contributor. Strong communicators tend to get people moving and working towards a common goal.
  • Helps mitigate conflict – Good communicators are able to help resolve conflicts quicker and easier. This helps smooth things over and keeps projects and initiatives moving forward.
  • Builds trust – You want to be able to trust who you work for and with. Effective communicators are good at establishing and building trust between people and groups.
  • Solves problems – Problems are solved by people with the ability to communicate clearly between groups and people. Those without good communication skills many times add to the confusion of a problem because they are unable to articulate their thoughts and ideas.

Personal relationships

  • Creates closeness – A good communicator is able to help foster a feeling of closeness with his or her partner.
  • Makes conflict okay – It’s actually better to fight with your partner from time to time instead of never fighting. We all have differences of opinion and points of view. When we don’t express these and bury it inside by not communicating, it just comes out later in a more negative form.
  • Provides support – It’s nice to know that someone cares about you and supports you. A strong communicator will ask how you’re doing and be a good sounding board for what you’re going through.
  • Expressing feelings – People who are not effective communicators tend to be not very good at expressing how they feel. This makes it tough to share your feelings with you partner.
  • Get the loving you want – In order to get the physical, mental, and emotional love you want and need, you have to be able to communicate clearly and appropriately with your spouse or partner. This is done through effective communication.
  • Eliminate mistrust, doubt, faithlessness, and insecurities – Many times these seeds are sown due to a lack of communication. If your partner rarely tells you where he or she is going, you will tend to start coming up with your own ideas. Often these aren’t true but how would you know if you aren’t told?

Can You Improve Your Communication Skills?

The short answer is yes, of course you can improve your communication skills.

Improving or changing anything in your life takes some work and effort but it can be done. You have to keep in mind your starting point and your goal.

If you are not a very good communicator now and you want to be able to give a motivating speech to a large graduating class, you’d better get working.

On the other hand, if you get along fairly well in general but want to be able to improve your relationship with your boss or spouse by being able to master effective communication, you may just need some guidance and practice.

Either way, if you want to master effective communication skills at both work and home, it will take a little work and effort. Doing so will benefit you in many ways.

How to Master Effective Communication Skills

In general mastering effective communication skills will help you at both work and home. Let’s look at how to improve verbal, written, and body language communication skills. These will help you create better relationships everywhere you go!

1. Learn how to listen

Speaking is only half of the communication equation. Sharpen your listening skills so you are able to process what the other person is saying. You can then respond it a well-informed manner.

Check out these active listening guidelines to be a better listener.

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2. Make eye contact

Having regular eye contact with someone while you are having a conversation shows you care what they are saying. When you are looking at the floor or out the window it gives the impression that you aren’t paying attention.

Take a look at this advice on how to make engaging eye contact.

3. Ask questions

When you ask someone questions, you are able to clarify what they are saying to ensure you get the whole picture. If you don’t understand it fully, ask questions.

Do you know that it takes some skills to ask questions too? Here’s how to be good at asking questions.

4. Watch body language

Watch both yours and the other persons.

We all know if you have a conversation with your arms crossed the entire time, it gives off a bad vibe. Have open, engaging body language when speaking with someone.

On the flip side, if you see someone’s eyes glazing over while speaking to you, it’s probably a good idea to wrap it up.

Take a look at these top 20 body language indicators to learn more.

5. Speak confidently

Sometimes this is easier said than done. If you communicate in an open, direct, and clear manner, it subtly shows people that you are confident in what you are saying.

It doesn’t mean you always have to be right but delivering your thoughts with confidence helps your case.

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These tips will help you speak more confidently.

6. Keep it simple

You don’t always have to be succinct in your communication. There is a lot of value in being able to tell a great story.

That being said, there are many instances where keeping it simple is very helpful. This is especially true at work in both verbal conversations as well as written like emails.

7. Know your audience

You should have a certain style when communicating with your boss. Another style of communication is better with your spouse and probably others with your kids or friends.

Know your audience to help you communicate the most effectively.

8. Be empathetic and understanding

There is a massive amount of power in being empathetic. And I mean that in a very positive way.

Showing that you are empathetic and understanding to another person goes a long way to creating a great bond with that person. We all want to be understood. It’s that simple.

Think it’s a challenge for you? These 5 tips for empathetic listening will help you.

9. Pause before reacting

There have been a number of times when I’ve read an email that just came in and had an instant reaction to reading it. And I don’t mean a positive reaction. My less effective ways of dealing and communicating has been to send a scathing email back.

When I’ve communicated more appropriately, I’ve waited a while before I responded. This is true in verbal situations as well.

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10. Over communicate

You’d think if you tell someone something that should be the end of it, right? Done deal. Not so fast.

I’m not recommending you tell someone the same thing 10 times in a row. With as many distractions as we all have these days, it’s generally a good idea to follow up on something you’ve communicated a few times if it’s important.

Conclusion

Having effective communication skills at both work and home will help you immensely.

At work, it helps you in your career in many ways.

Communicating well with your boss leads to a solid, symbiotic working relationship. You’re able to clearly articulate what you need to do your job well. You can share your vision and strategy with your boss and others. Good communicators are needed in management roles and leading others. Fostering an environment of effective communication leads to a great work environment.

At home, having effective communication skills will help you achieve the type of relationship you want with your spouse.

You are able to speak freely and openly about your feelings. You can share your wants and needs in a manner that your spouse understands. Your spouse will feel understood and supported by you which is a wonderful feeling to have. And being able to have a disagreement and work through it due to strong communication skills is amazing.

Look at how you can master effective communication skills at work and home to help create more satisfying relationships in all phases of your life.

More Resources About Work Communication

Featured photo credit: NeONBRAND via unsplash.com

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