mentoring communication

Mentoring Musings

Top 10 mentoring tips for a successful relationship.

Mentorship, or lack of mentorship, can make or break an experience. Whether you are a student, employee, employer, or somewhere in between, you and your team could probably benefit from the support of dedicated mentors. I wrote this list specifically with mentors of students or young people in academia in mind, but it can apply to a variety of relationships and fields. In a perfect world these 10 items, in no particular order, would be considered by both a mentor and a mentee to increase productivity, job satisfaction, and personal growth:

Figure 1. Mentoring should be on your to-do list. Source: Steve Stedman

1. Make time. If your mentee requests meetings to talk about work, or to establish a relationship with you as a network contact (and advocate in the field), do not push them away because your time is limited. Make it a priority to listen to them and form genuine connections.

2. Give them assignments in which you have an interest. They can tell when they are given busy work or when their assignment is low priority. If you give them assignments that you’re genuinely interested in, you’re more likely to treat their progress as a valuable contribution and give better and more timely feedback on their performance.

3. Establish expectations clearly, early, and frequently. This includes the format and frequency of communication, the output expected from them, the format and frequency of response from you regarding that output, letters of recommendation, networking support, and working timeline (hours and days expected during the week but also anticipated length of employment).

4. Review performance and revisit expectations regularly. Regular performance reviews are a time to revisit these expectations and ensure that they are still realistic and functional for the both of you. These reviews should occur at least once per year, but every 3-6 months is better. In these reviews, a 360-degree approach can help you gain insight on how you both fulfill your work tasks and how fulfilling you find them to be. In the 360-degree approach, you ask for feedback from those you mentor, your peers, and your superiors. This means that it is a mutual assessment in which you provide feedback to your mentee and also ask for feedback from them on your performance as a mentor. You can grow together to best fit each others’ needs with open communication.

5. Be open to their interests. Not everyone wants to have your career, but you can still provide valuable support in their journey. This is relevant in guidance for job searches but also in their assignments while working on your team. Take their strengths and interests into consideration when giving them assignments and adapt which projects they work on based on what you’ve learned about their strengths and interests.

6. Build a community in your team. Encourage both formal and informal gatherings (ex: go to a conference or convention, celebrate a successful project completion, convene for someone’s first and last day on the job). Encourage collaboration within that community, but this comes after creating the community in the first place.

7. Value the perspective of each team member equally. When bringing a new team member into a community it is important to get everyone’s input because their community is about to change. Have an honest conversation about the qualities that you value and the qualities that they value, and come to a consensus about who best personifies those qualities out of the applicants. It’s hard to expect people to train someone that they didn’t want on the team in the first place.

8. Provide multiple avenues of grievance mitigation. Give them resources and alternative points of contact in case there is a grievance against you or someone you are close with. They should know that they don’t have to rely solely on you. It is important to equip them with knowledge of the channels to go down in the event of harassment or unfair treatment. You can’t be everything to them. This resource-sharing allows them to expand their support system as well.

9. Give them training. Help them get to the outcomes you want them to produce in the future. Then they have a template that they can work off and examples to draw from instead of trying to reinvent the wheel. This is a teaching mentality rather than testing. You’ve already brought them into your group so help them to succeed rather than making them constantly prove themselves in an effort to keep their spot.

10. Understand that their lived experiences are likely very different from yours. Be introspective of your biases and microaggressions and ask them for accommodations, pronouns, and extra considerations that you should be mindful of to help them thrive in your community. Give them days off when they need them and let them know that mental health days and physical health days are both important.

Ultimately, it comes down to one thing: frequent, honest, thoughtful communication.

If you genuinely do your best, that’s all anyone can ask of you.

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