How to be a Good Mentor Part 2

goodmentorpt2In my last post, I shared my thoughts on how to ruin any mentor relationship. The secret is to make the mentoring process all about you, the mentor. Now I want to share what I believe is the cure for this relational ailment. I think the cure is active listening.

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“Listening,” you retort. “How is the secret ingredient (to mix metaphors) something I do all the time? Of course I listen to my mentees,” you exclaim.

Active listening (AL) isn’t the same as what we can called mere listening (ML). There are two main differences between the two. The first is obvious given the name “active listening.” As you can see from the infographic I shamelessly stole from the internet, AL requires a level of engagement with the speaker greater than the level normally reached in ML. For this reason, ML is also known as passive listening. ML is just hearing in addition to good language skills. It’s the focusing of one’s auditory faculties in the direction of the oncoming sound coupled with the ability to understand syntax and grammar. For example, when your mentee says, “I’m having a stellar morning,” you have no problem hearing the sounds she’s making, understanding the meaning associated with the individual words and understanding how those words fit together to communicate a more complex sentence. The whole process can be done without the listener ever engaging the speaker. The speaker engages you.

The second difference between AL and ML, is the content in the minds of the speaker and listener after the conversation is over. In ML, it is possible for the speaker and the listener to have two different concepts or ideas in their minds. Going back to the above example, if the speaker is extremely sarcastic like my mentee Katie, then when she says she’s having a stellar morning, she might mean she’s having a really good morning or she might mean that she is having the worst morning in her life. In ML, both meanings are legitimate. In AL however, the goal is for the speaker and listener to have the same ideas in their minds. More pointedly, in AL, the goal is for the listener to have the same thing in her mind as what is in the speaker’s mind. She wants to make sure she understands what Katie means when she says she’s having a stellar day. This is why AL is active. The goal is complete understanding. The goal is fullness.

This search for completeness is what guards the mentor for making mentoring all about herself. By actively seeking to understand what the mentee is thinking, feeling and processing, the mentor has to get out of herself and get into the mind of the mentee. This isn’t an easy practice to learn. Honestly speaking, I blew two opportunities to actively listen to my staff while writing this blog post! But if you can master it, you will probably have more successful mentoring relationships than failures.

By Leroy Lemar, Executive Director for Serenity’s Steps


How to be a Good Mentor Part 1

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It’s hard to believe that I’ve been mentoring for almost 18 years. Unofficially, I began mentoring my sophomore year of college when I interned with my church’s youth department. Within the first few weeks, I connected with six youth that eventually become “Leroy’s kids.” I still keep tabs on all of them. While i’m still mentoring youth, I also mentor everyone from people interested in starting nonprofits to transgendered adults who have been crippled by abuse, shame, and negligent.

Over these last 18 years, I’ve learned quite a few mentoring best practices. Most of the positive methods will enhance your mentoring while most of the negative ones will hinder it. But there is one mentoring method that is absolutely guaranteed to make your mentoring relationship fails gloriously. It creates a kind of mentoring vertigo in which you think you are doing a stellar job but you are actually on your way back down to mentoring terra firma. How so? Consider the following scenario:

You are at the office on Thursday afternoon and you get an email from Eddie who is a friend of Katie. Eddie told Katie that he was desperate for a mentor and Katie recommended you. You close Eddie’s email, sit back, and basking the feelings or honor and value. “Somebody wants me,” you tell yourself with pride. You then sit down and ask yourself how can I make sure Eddie gets the best of knowledge. You schedule your first session at the trending coffeehouse around the corner. When the Eddie arrives, you launch into stories from your personal and professional life. You smile as he fills his journal with your platitudes, folk wisdom and cliches. Eddie leave the meeting so excited to have chosen you and you sit back thinking, “I am really something else.”

But notice what you didn’t do. Not once did you stop to ask if any of what you were sharing was in the least bit relevant to Eddie’s needs. You made mentoring all about you. You felt great. Eddie felt great. But Eddie may not have been helped at all. As a mentor, your greatest responsibility is their personal and professional success. If they do not succeed, then to some extent, you are not a good mentor.

Please stay tuned for Part II …..

By Leroy Lemar, Executive Director for Serenity’s Steps


4 Keys to Effective Communication in Conflict

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Conflict makes most of us uncomfortable.  I would often rather stand in a long line at Wal-mart with two registers open than have to explain to someone why I’m upset with them.  I’m a fixer by nature, and I’ll do someone else’s work as well as my own rather than confront a slacking coworker.  Maybe some of you can relate.

Others of you may be the first to dive into conflict, embracing it with open arms.  There’s no other way to solve differences than to hash them out immediately, right?  Unfortunately, this method can also lead to unhealthy outcomes as it is easy to get heated and end up coming away feeling like no progress whatsoever was made.

The book Crucial Conversations by Kerry Patterson, Joseph Grenny, Ron McMillan and Al Switzler coaches the reader through ways to recognize the story you are telling when conflict arises, the ways that you interpret someone else’s story, and how to find the right story – resulting in productive outcomes all around!

This past year, we went through the book Crucial Conversations as a Serenity’s Steps staff and with the women employed at That Grace Restored.  Not only are conflict resolution and good communication skills necessary for establishing healthy relationships, but they also makes the difference between being deemed a short-fuse, a push-over or a respected, self-assured yet gracious individual.

So, using some of the tips we learned from the authors of Crucial Conversations, here’s how to be an effective communicator in conflict:

1.    Know what you want the result of your confrontation to be and keep that in mind.

Ultimately, do you want to be right, or do you want to work through an issue in the relationship and be stronger for it?  Do you care about your opinion being heard, or do you want your friend to make a healthy life decision?  It’s easy in the heat of a confrontation to lose sight of your real goal.  Talk to yourself before and during the conversation, recognizing your true desired outcome in the midst of the emotion you feel in the moment. This will guide the way in which you tell your story to the other person and keep you from common pitfalls like going into a conversation on the defensive.

2.    Understand your own story.

It’s easy to not only get confused about what outcome you really want when it feels like the other person is attacking you, but also to choose going into superficial defense mode rather than digging deep to understand your true feelings and beliefs about the problem. True recognition of your own story allows you to communicate more effectively and calmly with the other person rather than reducing you to cheap shots and trying to “win” the argument.

3.    Listen to where the other person is coming from.

Once you understand your story and goal, it is important to listen to the other person’s story.  How do they perceive the situation?  What is their motivation behind their actions? How are they likely to interpret what you are saying to them in light of this?  Understanding their story through humble questions allows you to respond in an appropriate manner with empathy and a clear knowledge of why they hold the position they do.

4.    Rewrite the story together. 

You’ve now gone through the steps needed to reach a peaceful resolution.   You know the end goal and you have shared your story. You have new information and fresh perspective to add after listening carefully to the other person’s story.  Now, you are together equipped to rewrite the narrative to create a full picture of the problem on both sides and the motivations of both parties.  Use this newfound understanding of yourself and each other to create an actionable plan for resolution.  One person may decide they were completely in the wrong.  On the other hand, you may both still have slightly opposing goals and a compromise will need to be worked out based on what is most important to both of you.

At the end of the day, intentional communication is always worth it in relationships and can be achieved by using tools like these to be effective in conflict scenarios.

What conflict resolution tactics have worked for you?  Share them in the comments!

By Kate McGaughey