In our section on the Evolution of the Mentoring Relationship, we examined the phases of the mentoring relationship and listed the competencies to successfully take the mentor and mentee through each phase. At this point in our learning it would be beneficial to review several of those phases and then explore some of their critical competencies in greater depth for the mentee.
Phase 1: Building Rapport:
The mentor and the mentee are exploring if they can work together. They are determining the alignment of values, establishing a mutual respect, agreeing on the purpose of their relationship, and establishing the roles, behaviors and expectations.
Two key competencies for the mentee to have in this phase are those of trust building and active listening.
A mentoring relationship is based on trust. As a mentee, you are placing a great deal of trust in your mentor to provide you with helpful guidance. At the same time, mentors are trusting that mentees will not take advantage of the relationship (e.g., wasting your mentor's time, repeating information not intended for others, asking for favors, inappropriately using the relationship). Building trust can take time; our behaviors can accelerate or stall the time it takes. Give some thought about what behaviors can help you quickly establish trust with your mentor.
Examine your own behaviors against those listed below.
Go to your Mentoring Workbook and locate and complete the worksheet entitled "Trust Building" This activity invites you to look into your own life for examples of trust-building and trust-lessening behaviors. Circle any that you feel you need to improve in order to make you a more successful mentee.
Key Active Listening Skills
What do we mean by active listening?
Active listening is an essential mentoring skill. Mentors and mentees alike make the mistake of confusing “hearing” and “listening.” Hearing is only the first part of listening, the physical part when your ears pick-up the sound-waves. Listening, however, is the interpretation of what you heard that leads to understanding or misunderstanding. This is followed by the evaluation stage where you weigh the information and determine how you will use it. Finally, based on what you thought you heard and how you evaluated, you react.
Here are four steps for improving your listening skills:
- Listen for central ideas. Typically, when a concept we are sharing is core to us, we will repeat and expound upon it to ensure the other person understands us. Listen for ideas that your mentor reiterates and illustrates with examples as they will form the foundation of their message.
- Determine what is of personal value to you in your mentor's conversation. Once you've identified the central ideas, consider how they apply to you. This will help reinforce your learning, since you can now match the mentor's message with your needs.
- Identify and eliminate as many of your "trigger" words as possible. Everyone has an emotional reaction, positive or negative, to certain words. These emotional reactions can cause us to get off track in our listening and our thinking making it more difficult to focus on what your mentor has to offer. Try to become aware of what words or phrases trigger an emotional response in you and work to overcome such responses. You will find it easier to maintain attention and concentration when you do.
- Learn to keep pace--speed of thought vs. speed of speech. Most people can think five to six times faster than another person can talk. This difference in pace of thought and speech often results in daydreaming or mind-wandering on the part of the listener. Give some
thought to things you can do to stay engaged when your mind starts to wander.
Ask, discuss, listen; all tags for communication. But communication is more than the sharing of knowledge or information by any number of means. At its high point it can be motivation, inspiration, consolation; at its low it can be desolation, isolation or worse. This video "Communication: The Foundation of Understanding" contains a series of inspiration quotations set to music. Enjoy its simplicity.
What are the Barriers to Active Listening?
Forming a judgment or evaluation before we understand what is being said. Are you so busy criticizing what the other person is saying that you don't hear them? There is nothing wrong with using discrimination, but it is more helpful to defer judgment until you fully understand what the other person is talking about.
Interrupting or excessive and incessant talking. When you don't allow the other person to complete a thought, you are not listening. Many people interrupt because they are impatient. If you find yourself losing the train of a conversation because the other is talking excessively, ask for a summary and then continue to listen.
Attributing your own thoughts and ideas to the speaker causing distortion. It is easy to mentally fill in the details of what another person is saying and then to assume you have understood them. People often take everything they hear personally, which is one of the main reasons for misunderstandings that lead to breakdowns in relationships. You can remedy that tendency by checking out your assumptions first.
Hearing what we wish to hear. People tend to hear what they expect to hear, need to hear, or want to hear and block out the rest. Keep in mind that everybody uses some form of selective listening. Get to know your form of selectivity and observe your tendency to block listening with it.
Always needing to offer advice. You may think that you have to answer every question asked and solve every problem given to you. The other person may simply be thinking aloud, or asking rhetorical questions. Either partner should specifically ask for help or advice. Otherwise, just listen and be there.
Being inattentive. Do you let your mind wander frequently in conversations, giving in to other external noises and distractions or to your own daydreams or plans? If boredom is the problem, remember that the more involved you become in the conversation, the less boring it may be. Ask questions. Ask for examples. Summarize what you hear the other person saying.
Go to your Mentoring Workbook and locate and complete the worksheet entitled "Listening Is Never Easy - Mentee Exercise!" This activity invites you to look into your own life for examples of active listening, or the lack of it. It will help reinforce the listening skills you are learning as well as identify the consequences of your efforts.