Mentoring. A nice chat, or a conversation with a purpose?

Conversation with a purposeWhen I ask people to describe their current mentoring relationship, or a past mentoring experience, I find it fascinating how much the depth of these mentoring relationships can vary. So let’s explore the diversity of learning richness that can occur in mentoring relationships and whether mentoring is just a nice chat, or a conversation with a purpose?

Does the directiveness of the mentor impact the depth of conversation?

Some mentors can remain in the guide or performance coach mode. This tends to occur when mentors and mentees don’t understand fully the role of a developmental mentor. Or they may be inexperienced, the mentee is unconfident, using the mentor as a surrogate line manager, or just plain lazy! it can be wonderful to have a mentor who is very knowledgeable or an expert in their field.

Having a mentoring relationship with someone who regurgitates all the tacit knowledge in their brains can be quite amazing and very supportive. However, how much does the mentee learn for themselves? Do the conversations become more of a teaching session in this mode? Or does it just become a chat with some information passed over by the mentor?

How the mentor supports the quality of the mentee’s reflection

Mentee's reflectionMentors who choose to vary their directiveness and take on the roles of a thinking partner and sounding board are generally those who are more experienced. Or perhaps, they have had a good mentor as a role-model themselves.

Mentors who understand clearly their role and the consequences of their behaviour will vary their behaviours more coherently and helpfully to the mentee. Improving the quality of the mentee’s deeper thinking and reflection in a transparent, supportive and open way.

Being capable of truly listening to their mentee, allowing them to think aloud and make sense of their situation and issues. Then offering some of their own experience and knowledge. These mentors will find themselves far more effective in supporting the mentee’s learning and reflective process.

Make your mentoring a conversation with a purpose

There are several things mentors, mentees and programme co-ordinators can do to ensure that mentoring relationships don’t just turn into nice chats or social conversations:

  1. Ensure the mentor and mentee understand their roles. They should have some education so they are aware of their different roles. As well as what is deeper thinking or reflection and how the mentor can facilitate it. Use our model of the roles of a mentor to help with this understanding.
  2. Having a clear focus will give the relationship vitality, more richness and a deeper level of learning. Putting sufficient emphasis on setting direction in the early stages of the relationship, will ensure that the mentor and mentee have more than just a nice chat in their meetings!

Why implement more formal mentoring?

IMentoring conversationn formal organisational mentoring programmes we are simply imitating good informal relationships. However, these generally would not occur without the more formal intervention and matching of the mentoring pair.

When designing a mentoring programme, we try to set up conducive environments to emulate these successful informal mentoring conversations. However, the quality and depth of the dialogue needs to be supported, so they don’t just become social conversations.

Combine skilled, effective mentors who understand their roles, with mentees who drive their agendas. Then conversations will be productive, with depth of insight and  two-learning.

Concluding thoughts about a conversation with a purpose

To talk though turning your mentoring into a conversation with a purpose, do get in contact. Or leave a comment below to continue the purposeful conversation!

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