There has never been a time when mentoring was more important than it is now. It can have huge benefits for both the person being mentored (the mentee) and the person doing the mentoring (the mentor). But what makes a good mentor? Having an interest in helping people to develop in their careers, being generous with one’s time and generally supportive of others are a few essentials. Another key quality is the ability to listen well, to really hear what is being said. But how many of us actually do this? Here we take a brief look at how we can improve the quality of our mentoring conversations through better listening.
Agreeing to give up your time to mentor someone is a lovely thing to do. People who are keen to give back and who find it rewarding to help others grow in their careers can make a lasting impact on the course that somebody takes, as well as how they feel about themselves. And with the right mindset and conditions in place for both mentor and mentee, a mentoring partnership can be mutually beneficial. Friendships can develop and mentors can gain insights into other people’s roles, organisations, sectors and of course their personalities, values, drivers and strengths. They can also discover new skills, or develop existing ones, such as listening.
In day to day life and business we often listen to respond, rather than to understand what another person is trying to say. A conversation can easily become an exchange of thoughts and things that we are waiting to say. Who hasn’t experienced unproductive discussions, characterised by interruptions and where it is clear that the person you are talking to is distracted by their own thoughts, needs and concerns? On the other hand, can you remember a conversation in which you felt that you were being heard and how this made you feel? Listening well is a way of being with another person. It exists when we are genuinely interested in what someone thinks and has to say. It is a skill that we can set out to develop and, with practice, it gets easier.
As well as enhancing mentoring and career development conversations, becoming a better listener can also improve our ability to be productive, to influence, persuade, negotiate and generally build strong relationships. So what makes a good listener? For mentors a good starting point is to mentally prepare for the conversation. Here are some suggested questions to think about:
- What might your mentee be looking to achieve by having a mentor?
- What do you think they might be thinking or feeling before you meet?
- And what might they hope to achieve from this particular meeting?
Being curious about your mentee, about the challenges they are facing and what they would like to think about when you meet sets the conditions for a constructive meeting. By paying them attention you start to build trust, develop a rapport and create a space in which they feel heard. This in turn produces high quality thinking and makes them feel valued. Body language also plays a part in showing that you are at ease with someone. Being still and making eye contact demonstrates that you are listening and that you intend to give them your time and attention. And perhaps most importantly of all, that you will not interrupt them.
Although mentoring differs from coaching, these thoughts highlight how taking a coaching approach to a mentoring conversation can really reap rewards, for both mentee and mentor. I encourage you to go into your next mentoring meeting with the intention of really working on your listening skills. I hope you enjoy the results and feel heartened by the fact that, with practice, listening really does improve the quality of our thinking and the conversations we have as a result.
If you are interested in learning more about mentoring or setting up a mentoring scheme in your organisation, SLT Executive Coaching can help. Simply complete a few details here and we’ll be in touch.
This article first appeared on www.cityparents.co.uk in October 2020.