In those early meetings between mentors and mentorees, it can feel a little awkward — for both parties — as each person learns how to communicate with the other.
One of the goals of these meetings is to have enriching discussions, so we thought we’d offer four communication tips that will help move the conversations forward into enrichment territory. The beauty of these tips is that you can use them in most relationships, not just mentoring.
1. Ask open-ended questions. The way to launch good discussions is by asking open-ended questions instead of yes/no questions.
Yes/No: “Are you happy in your position?”
Open-ended: What three things do you like best about your current position?
Notice how the open-ended question will lead into other open-ended questions: What are the biggest challenges you’re facing in your position? What are your goals over the next 12 months?
2. Practice mirroring. This is an important technique in communication since it helps avoid misinterpretations. When you “mirror” what someone says, you’re repeating it back to the person as you understand it.
So if you’re a mentoree and your mentor is making a suggestion about how to handle a particular challenge you’re facing, you’d start by saying, “So it sounds like you’re recommending that I do X. Does that sound right?”
This technique works if you’re the mentor as well. “It sounds like the biggest challenge you’re facing is X. Does that sound right?”
By framing the question this way, it allows the speaker to evaluate whether you understood his/her message — and to offer clarification in case there was a misunderstanding.
3. Use verbal nodding. In addition to nonverbal gestures (e.g. making eye contact, nodding your head), verbal nodding also reinforces the fact that you’re listening and following along in the conversation. Verbal nodding includes phrases like “Right” or “Yes” or “Mm” or “What happened next?”
4. Provide validations. When people are talking about things that are important to them — such as their work life and careers — they want to be heard. In other words, they want the person who is listening to know how important the topic is to the speaker. As the listener, the way to show you “get this” is by providing validation.
For example, if your mentoree is discussing a difficult incident that happened over the last week, you might respond by saying, “Wow. That sounds like it was really hard.” And then follow up with an open-ended question, such as “How did you feel about it the next day?” or “Now that you’ve had time to think about it, what would you have done differently?”
The validation shows that you heard the speaker and acknowledged his or her feelings. The follow-up question moves the discussion forward.
Give these tips a try the next time you get together with your mentor/mentoree (or with a friend/family member) and see how it helps foster discussion.