This web page reviews some of the key skills relating to activities that are likely to be involved in a mentoring relationship including:
- Asking effective questions
- Listening when the mentee needs support in solving a problem or developing a plan.
- Providing motivation.
- Facilitating the process of reflection on how to make improvements.
Effective questioning is at the heart of mentoring. It is useful to think about questions under the following headings.
- usually beginning with what, why, how,
- Asks for knowledge, opinion or feelings. "
Examples are: What happened at the meeting? How did he react to that?
Use open questions to:
- Encourage the mentee to talk
- To help you see and hear things from their perspective,
- To allow them to have more control of the agenda
- usually receive a single word or very short, factual answer.
Examples are: “Would you like a coffee?”, “Do you have a bicycle?”
Use closed questions to:
- Test your understanding,
- Discourage the other person from talking by appearing to restrict their options
- Try to be sparing in your use of closed questions, they can damage rapport.
- Usually seeking to gain further informnation and are based on what the mentee has already said.
An example is : “You say you enjoyed your last project, which aspect of the work gave you the most satisfaction?”
Use probing questions to:
Providing active listening
Active listening is one of the key skills of mentoring. An active listener says as little as possible, only asking questions for clarification, and encourages the conversation with confirmation of what the other person has said. It is very important not to interrupt the speaker with ideas, solutions or suggestions. You may decide to offer your experiences at the end of the conversation but their situation is likely to be subtly different. The answer to their problem is likely to be within them. They may want to explore options but the ultimate decision should reside with the mentee.
Active listening is important because:
- It provides a deeper understanding of the factors that hold the person back and their unique situation.
- It means that the focus is on the mentee and not on the mentor.
- It helps to get a clear picture of the situation. It is often valuable for the person speaking to articulate the complex factors that might impinge on them taking the next step.
Active listening is a skill that can be easily practiced in conversation. If you want to find out more here are some other sources of information about active listening:
- Top ten tips on active listening.
You don't need to be super-human to inspire others. The key is to support the mentee in reflecting on how their activities support their goals. This involves regular reviews of goals. If energy and motivation are lacking it may be worth reviewing whether the goals you have discussed really are the true aims of the mentee. It may be necessary to address negative behaviour with the mentee. The aim is to grow the self-esteem and confidence of the mentee in order that they become independent.
You may find it useful to provide examples of your experience so that the mentee has a role model.The skill is to offer your experience as a possible option and to remember that everyone's experience is different.
Facilitating the process of reflection on how to make improvements
There are a number of assessment tools which are commonly used to 'classify' how a person behaves in a work situation. These tools are relevant to mentoring because they given insight into people's behaviour so that improvements can be identified. It is worth remembering that these tools do not give definitive answers on strengths and weaknesses but may structure self assessment and provide new insights. Lots of assessment tools are available which each take a different perspective. They may be based on:
- What motivates you?
- How do you learn?
- How do you interact with people?
The assessment tools can be applied either by using a relevant book or approaching a consultancy service. Some of these may be available through the University Careers Advisory Service . If you want to avoid the fees there is plenty of literature available through the library to allow you to perform a self assessment. Here are some examples
- Learning Styles Questionnaire - Using your learning styles / Peter Honey and Alan Mumford, is a pamphlet available through the University Library.
- Your role in a team - Team roles at work / Meredith Belbin. Oxford : Butterworth-Heinemann, 1993, is a book available through the University Library.