In this article, we’ll talk about the key mentoring skills of contracting, coaching and reflection. Effective mentors and mentees have some key skills which they may learn and develop together.
If you have never directly practised the skills in question, this is a perfect opportunity. Often people react to these thinking it’s basic stuff. In some respects it is – and yet most people have never practised them, so why do they think they would be any good at it.
We covered this in 'The Role of a Mentor' , but it’s still worth emphasising that this is a valuable mentoring skill. Contracting, simply, means agreeing how you are going to work together. It’s the skill that is missing in those badly organised time-wasting meetings we all get to go to! It deals with what you are doing together as well as how you are doing it. Practise this. But, also notice the differences when people do not do this well.
Continue to do this for each conversation. How long do we have (this time)? What do you want from me today? What am I looking for today? Contracting in this way is an ongoing exercise of checking-in that you are still aligned. How often has someone informed you 30 minutes into a 60-minute meeting that they have to leave in 5 minutes? Which they knew all along! Effective contracting is checking this out at the start!
As a mentor, you may find some coaching models are useful to perfect this mentoring skill. These help you to establish the full situation the mentee wants to talk about and, of course, may result in the mentee finding their own solution before you have a chance to offer advice. Probably the easiest example is the classic GROW model. There are four key stages in which you ask questions to establish answers to the following:
- What is your mentees underlying Goal or goals?
- What is the current Reality facing your mentee?
- What Options has the mentee already identified?
- What does the mentee currently think is the best Way forward?
Don’t expect the mentee to know the answers to these questions. You may need several attempts to help the mentee uncover what they already know. There is additional background reading on GROW model.
Are you good at reflecting back on previous conversations and decisions? If this is not your normal way of operating, you have a great opportunity here. After any conversation with your mentor or mentee, set some time aside to reflect on what you learned. Try this in different ways – some people reflect well whilst taking exercise, others sit quietly out of the way, others do it on the commute home. Focus on your last conversation and ask yourself some questions, for example:
- What did you not think of asking?
- What contradictions were there?
- What did you notice about your and their emotions?
- How stressed did it make you feel?
- What was unexpected about the conversation? What surprised you?
- How would your advice change now that you have had time to think about it?
Some things to watch out for
Mentoring skills improve through practice.
Read the previous articles from Phil Renshaw's Mentor's Series: