Mentoring Tips: Five Ways to Support Others

Here are five mentoring tips, gleaned from my experience as a counselor.

Mentoring Tip #1: Begin with what you hear and see in your protege’s presence

It’s never “just” listening. To put your personal concerns aside while you truly listen to others is to give them a precious gift.

Psychologist Leona Tyler wrote: “Counseling is basically a perceptual task. It is not possible to learn to say the right thing at the right time without learning to listen and watch and understand.” It is the same for mentoring. Look. Listen. Let curiosity gently move you along.

Despite my desire to serve a helping of wisdom along with my counseling, I can’t recall a single instance of praise for my profundity. On the other hand, clients thanked me over and over again—for listening.

mentoring tips to go slow like grapes grow

Mentoring Tip #2: Model patience with the process

Offer a contrast to our frenetic culture. Slow down. Developing talent takes time. Conduct your conversation so that your student can begin to hear that small voice inside.

My clients would often tell me that they didn’t know what they wanted when they actually did. Eventually, because I waited and and probed instead of rushing in to offer advice, they would get around to admitting their heart’s desire.

“No great thing is created suddenly, any more than a bunch of grapes or a fig. If you tell me that you desire a fig, I answer you that there must be time. Let it first blossom, then bear fruit, then ripen.” — Epictetus

Mentoring Tip #3: Respect your student’s desires

Personal values bring emotion (note the root word motion) into play, and that kind of energy can move mountain ranges. So let your daughter know that you respect her values.

One young woman admitted during a counseling session that she wanted to become a good nurse and live in the country where she could raise a big vegetable garden. Then she trembled and hung her head in shame. Her goals didn’t fit her parents’ values, so she felt as though she had just confessed to something sinful.

Many a young person feels vulnerable because her values are at odds with the mainstream (or perhaps simply at odds with her parents). Honoring her desires in your conversation will help her move forward.

Mentoring Tip #4: Express confidence in his or her ability

If you believe that your grandson is capable of doing whatever it is he says he wants to do, then tell him so.

Creative people of all sorts have claimed that they gained confidence from just one trusted person who believed in their ability to create. I experienced this myself, when I told my sister that I wanted to write fiction for children. She read some of my early efforts and said, “I think you can do it.” Sounds simple, but what a boost!

Mentoring Tip #5: Contain your own anxiety

When your employee wants to discuss something important, chances are that she will be a bit worried. Anxiety is contagious—but don’t let her scare you too.

One of my clients had been fired from a prominent position. Already embarrassed by his public demotion, he became panicked by his subsequent lack of success at the job hunt. Fear wafted off of him like strong bug repellent, which undoubtedly hurt his chances with potential employers. I helped by not becoming scared myself. Once he calmed down, he got the job he wanted and became one of my most grateful clients.

Try to focus on the person instead of her anxiety. In other words, let her feelings be her feelings and attend to her as a whole person. Attending does not mean rushing in to save her from feeling bad. It means going back to basics, to the starting point of what you hear and see and feel in her presence (see Tip #1).

Rest assured: You can provide information and opinions and emotional support, but you do not need to make decisions. That task belongs to your protege. After all, she’s the one who must live with the consequences.

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