A frequently voiced, but often not discussed concern of formal mentoring programs, is the issue of “chemistry.” This somewhat intangible concept, typically described as the way a mentor and partner get along with each other, is based on what is almost always an ingredient in informal mentoring relationships. It may in fact be the primary element that attracts people to each other in informal mentoring.
In preparing for formal mentoring relationships the concern is often expressed in a negative direction; that is, both a mentor and partner might independently voice, “What if there is no chemistry between us; what do we do then?”
This assumption (that there must be chemistry) is natural because it is based on observations of or experience with informal mentoring. But while chemistry might be useful for faster relationship development in formal mentoring, it is not a necessary condition for the success of a formal pairing. Instead, what is necessary is a demonstration of mutual respect.
The three key areas that are essential for the success of a formal mentoring relationship are: (1) setting goals; (2) establishing clear expectations; and (3) attending to and assessing the development of the relationship.
Each one of these areas provides both the mentor and partner an opportunity to engage in and model the skills associated with the practice of mutual respect.
The six-step exercise outlined below has been designed to demonstrate how to practice respectful interaction while accomplishing the task of establishing goals. It was also designed to help participants experience (a) how little time it actually takes to be an effective mentor (thus reducing the often expressed concern about the time required); and (b) how a mentor can be effective without being an “expert” (thus reducing the need to view mentors as “all-knowing” in their field).
While this exercise is a role work activity, it is important that the participants select topics (goal statements, for example) that are real and not “hypothetical” or just made up for the purpose of the exercise.
In addition, the language used in the activity is based on phrasing that I typically use and may not match what others might actually say. It’s perfectly okay to change the phrasing to fit individual preference as long as the intention of respectful dialogue can be clearly demonstrated.
For the purpose of the activity, I recommend staying as close as possible to the dialogue as presented. At the end of the activity we can review other ways of being able to demonstrate respect using different phrasing.
Step One – Find a Partner: Decide who will be the mentor and who will be the partner.
Step Two – Develop the Relationship (Build Rapport):
The mentor sends a welcoming message (verbal and non-verbal) such as, “I’m glad we could meet together. I’m really looking forward to working as your mentor.”
The partner sends an appreciation message (verbal and non-verbal) such as, “Thanks for taking the time to meet with me. I think I can learn a lot from our connection.”
Step Three – Set the Agenda (Formulate the Purpose):
The mentor: (Establish an agenda) “How about for this session we focus on what we want to learn as a result of being part of our mentoring relationship.”
The partner: (Add to the agenda) “That’s great; and if we have time, let’s arrange our next meeting time and possible topics.”
Step Four – Engage in Learning Conversation (Share Objectives, Current Reality, Challenges, Methods, and Action Plans):
The mentor: “I’d like to know about your goals for our mentoring relationship. What’s the most important thing you want to gain from your involvement in mentoring”
If the partner has difficulty coming up with any goals or responds with a shrug or an ‘I don’t know’ type of response, then the Mentor can switch to a different approach and ask, “Sometimes it’s easier to to start with what you don’t want to happen, so let’s begin there. What don’t you want to happen during mentoring sessions?”)
Partner: (shares learning goals or what he or she does not want to happen)
Mentor: (demonstrates understanding through paraphrasing, restating or summarizing)
Partner: (acknowledges accuracy of Mentor understanding or clarifies/modifies)
Mentor: “What is it about your learning goal that makes it important or exciting to you?”
Partner: (shares the basis for importance or excitement)
Mentor: “How will you feel when you’ve accomplished your goal?”
Partner: (shares emotions, ideas)
Mentor: “How do you plan to achieve your goal?”
Partner: (shares strategy or plan)
Mentor: “What, if anything, might interfere with your plan?”
Partner: (shares possible blocks)
Mentor: “What methods can you use to prevent block(s) from occurring?”
Partner: (shares methods)
Mentor: “Given what we’ve discussed so far, what actions will you take to put your plan into practice?”
Partner: (shares action(s)
Mentor: “How will you know when you’ve been successful or “outrageously successful”?
Partner: (shares possibilities)
Mentor: “How can I help you to be accountable?”
(Mentor and partner both contribute possible ideas)
Step Five – Close the Session (Assess Progress)
Mentor: (Summarize what you’ve learned, suggest an agenda item for next session, and express appreciation for something you’ve observed.)
Partner: (Summarize what you’ve learned, suggest an agenda item for next session, and express appreciation for something you’ve observed.)
“That is what learning is. You suddenly understand something you’ve understood all your life, but in a new way.”
~ Doris Lessing ~