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  • 0 Polishing Your Writing Style

    Effective communication is a major topic in mentoring. Success at everything we do- giving and receiving feedback, wielding political savvy, networking, seeking career advancement- comes down to our ability to thoughtfully say what we mean. Over the past year, many of us have polished our online presence and dug deep into our toolboxes to work productively in a virtual world. In this month’s newsletter we are going step back from technology and address good-old fashioned writing fundamentals. Don’t worry the rules have relaxed Admittedly, texting and social media posting have forever altered the writing craft. Some of the hard-nosed grammatical rules we learned in school have been lifted, for example: it’s okay to start a new sentence with a conjunction (“But let me know if you can’t access the server.”) if it adds gracefulness to your message. You can end a sentence on a preposition (“Which session were you in?”) if it makes the sentence clearer. Even capitalization can be optional depending on the medium. The north star for correspondence in the modern world is clarity. In other words, your emails need not sound Shakespearean for the sake of proper grammar. Please do not misunderstand relaxing the rules for rushing your process. Be a careful writer and an even more careful editor of your own work. The final chapter of Strunk and White’s prized writing guide, The Elements of Style, urges: “Write in a way that comes easily and naturally to you, using words and phrases that come readily to hand. But do not assume that because you have acted naturally, your product is without flaw.” Be concise: fewer words make a bigger impact Say what you mean and say it quickly. Be polite and conversational but try not to couch your point in too many niceties because the meaning could be lost. Consider these two passages: Example A: “I hope you are well! Let me start by saying how grateful I am for the opportunity to work on this project. I have really enjoyed getting to know everyone and the very challenging work and hope to continue working with this team for a long time. I did want to let you know that I’ve actually had some trouble accessing the platform. Do you have any idea who I should contact for help with this? Thank you again. I really hope to see you soon!” Example B: “Hi- Who should I contact for password help? Thanks! Enjoying the experience and the work!” The second example quickly outlines the sender’s needs. Their straightforward phrasing also better expresses their genuine appreciation because it’s easier to see what they’re saying. Taking too long to get to the point is confusing and frankly, you lose the reader’s attention after a while. Be genuine but also direct and succinct. Here are a few tried and true tips for eliminating wordiness: 1. Qualifying words such as “really”, “very,” and “definitely” are distracting. If a situation needs more emphasis, then find a better word. If you are “really happy,” maybe you are “thrilled.” If you are “very concerned,” perhaps you are “worried.” 2. It takes more words to be vague. Asking for the item “somewhat quickly” sounds clunky and offers no answers. If you need your colleague to step on it, advise them to expedite or fast-track. Better yet, tell them you need it by Friday at noon. 3. Lean on key nouns and action verbs to cut down on unnecessary words. Notice how trimming Example A made the purpose of Sue’s spreadsheet much clearer. Example A: “Sue made a spreadsheet in an attempt to keep us organized.” Example B: “Sue’s spreadsheet will keep us organized.” 4. Keep prepositions under control. Prepositions are those little words that show the relationship between a noun or pronoun and some other word or element in the rest of the sentence. These words (with, into, up, of, for, about, because of, during, concerning…) should be attached to an object. While it is important to say things precisely, too many prepositions can cause a reader’s eyes to glaze. See how eliminating at least six unnecessary prepositions transformed Example A from a weighty overbearing sentence to a powerful point (Example B): Example A: “An understanding of what the organizational mission is about will be necessary for any employee working with the team who wishes to move up in this division.” Example B: “Team members looking for advancement will need to understand the mission.” Avoid the passive voice Passive writing, though hard to identify, can quickly weaken your message. The sentence subject should be the person or thing taking action rather than an action happening to the subject. One trick is to reduce the distance between the subject and the verb: Example A: “The brief was filed by Mark on Tuesday.” Example B: “Mark filed the brief on Tuesday.” In example B, Mark is one word closer to the brief. You won’t always be able to avoid passive phrasing, but overdoing it makes for dull reading. Check your writing to make sure most of your sentences are active. Cut diminishing words from your vocabulary There are certain words and phrases we should limit because they dilute our meaning and diminish the importance of our needs: Just Hopefully Actually Kind of Consider how those words can come across as nervous and undeserving, “I just wanted to check in.” No way. You needed to check in. Not just. “I am checking in because the staff meeting is tomorrow.” Or even, “Hopefully you saw my note.” If they have not responded to you, stronger language will urge them to prioritize: “Did you see my note?” Similarly, you aren’t “actually writing because” you are “writing because.” Also cut sentence openers such as “I feel…”, “I think…”, and “I believe…” Be convincing with your words and put your salient points out in front. Not “I feel we are on target for our goal,” but instead “we are on target for our goal.”  

  • 0 Building resilience into your Mentoring Plan

    It’s been a rough year full of challenges, changes and setbacks. But in all of this darkness, one bright light has been a new sense of permission to talk openly about struggle and hardship. To say out loud, without fear of judgment—This is hard. I’m lonely. I need help. The hard truths that once made us feel vulnerable and exposed now help us feel connected because, no matter who you are or where you live, we’re all going through this in one way or another. In the mentoring community, this cultural shift sets the perfect backdrop for starting an important conversation about one of the most critical skills a person can build in life—resilience. Resilience is the capacity to not only cope with difficulties, but to recover from and overcome them. And like any other skills, it takes practice and intention to develop. Below are some ways that mentoring partnerships can make resilience a focus in their mentoring work. Start the conversation and be ready to listen. Finding opportunities to talk about resilience won’t be hard. Even in ordinary times, life is full of challenges and setbacks. Despite this, partnerships often focus their discussions on how to prepare for success and spend a disproportionately small amount of time talking about how to bounce back from failure. Mentors can bring resilience into focus by making it a regular practice to ask mentees to share the challenges they are currently facing, as well as how they are dealing with those challenges. What coping strategies do they use? Do they have a strong support system? What actions have they taken to overcome the challenge? What did they learn and what did they change to carry that experience forward? Acknowledge negative feelings. Part of building resilience is learning how to share our troubles with trusted members of our support system. It can be hard to talk about problems, failures, and hurts, and few things can be more dissuasive than a listener who responds by advising you to keep a stiff upper lip or reminding you that at least you have your health. It is always important to be an effective listener, but especially when you invite someone to share something difficult with you. Effective listening means acknowledging that challenges, big or small, can generate negative feelings and practicing compassion for the person experiencing them. Phrases like, “It sounds like that was a tough time,” or “That must have been really difficult,” validate a person’s feelings of hardship without dismissing or, conversely, magnifying them. Accentuate the positive. While it’s important to acknowledge negative feelings, it’s also important not to focus on them exclusively. Every challenge is an opportunity for growth. Mentors can help their mentees take advantage of that opportunity by helping them find and accentuate the positive in their hardships. With a mentor’s objective perspective and guiding wisdom, a challenging relationship with a supervisor or colleague can become a chance to learn how to work with different DISC styles. A blundered presentation can become the genesis for a three-way partnership between the mentee, mentor, and supervisor to identify ways to improve, chances to practice, and an opportunity to try again. Both of these examples illustrate that finding the positive is key to building resilience, and that being resilient is not just about how you cope with a challenge, but how you move past it. End your conversations about challenges or failures with a clear vision of the good that can come from this problem and an actionable plan to carry out a resilience behavior or strategy to bring that vision to fruition. Draw on personal experience. When it comes to getting through a challenge, advice is nice but hearing about how someone else overcame a similar barrier can be even better. Even the most accomplished among us has experienced failures and setbacks and has something to offer in the way of anecdotal evidence that this, too, shall pass. When it’s the mentor’s turn to talk in a conversation about resilience, they should be open and honest about the stumbles and hard times they’ve dealt with on their journey. Dig deep into your memory bank and pull out the failures, fears, insecurities, and bad habits that threatened to hold you back at one point. Share what you learned from those challenges and how you adapted your behaviors, thought patterns, and coping strategies from one challenge to the next. What did you gain from those hard times that you might have missed out on had you not experienced them? Revisit the conversation and celebrate the victories. Mentees will likely not master resilience in one conversation, and even the most resilient mentee can benefit from thinking critically about how to build or maintain their tolerance for change and challenge. Revisit challenges regularly to evaluate how resilience behaviors or strategies have worked, and celebrate their progress or tweak their approach as needed.  

  • 0 Staging a Reboot

    This week, I took a back-to-school photo of my three children- right there on the porch, next to the flowerpot, in front of our pink door, as we do every year. Only it isn’t September, it’s March. My kids are among the throngs of school children returning to school after nearly a year of learning on their computers in the kitchen. Returning to school was a big milestone! My sons shoved their belongings into their old backpacks. One resisted brushing his hair and the other tried to get away with a pair of mismatched socks. They were excited to walk into their school building but also understood that today was merely the day after the weekend which followed Friday- a string of ordinary days, halfway through the school year. My daughter took a much different approach from her brothers. She purchased a new set of colored pencils, straightened up her spiral notebooks, organized her binder, set out her clothes the night before and fussed over her lunch to ensure it seemed special. How different kids can be from each other, I thought to myself. But then I realized what was really happening: my daughter was creating a fresh start. Halfway through the year, during a transition, she saw an opportunity to begin again, jump start, rev up, reboot. It was brilliant, actually. Staging a reboot through mentoring We don’t need to wait around for new years’ or a job change. If we’re looking for a reboot, we can capitalize on a transition, the way my daughter did. Participating in a mentoring program, for example, presents an opportunity. Mentoring work expands our perspectives on our organizations and enhances our access within them. The middle of a mentoring program is a good spot to position a start line. Fresh start “buckets” Consider some of the major outputs of mentoring work such as professional development, enhanced networks, and technical skill-building. Think of them as buckets from which to pull a fresh start. Here are some strategies: Professional development- One of the first tasks upon joining a mentoring program is writing professional and career goals. Planning thoughtful progression toward meeting them does not need to end with the program activities. Let these goals be the launching pad for targeted discussions with your supervisor about the kinds of projects you want to work on and competencies you hope to gain. Put a standing date with your supervisor on the calendar to address your goals regularly. This will demonstrate your focused determination. Networking- You’ve been introduced to your mentoring partner and likely aim to make new professional contacts beyond. Setting and meeting networking goals in a mentoring program requires some advanced work. You need to articulate your experience and intentions quickly and efficiently. You also need to express your needs: “I want to learn more about…” “I hope to meet someone from this department because…” Once you put together this story, keep it close and continue to use it. Meet people in all directions, not just where you’re headed but where you’ve been. Whether encountering people in the halls or on zooms, keep using that advanced legwork to show your authenticity and drive. Continue to be an active networker. Remember: Look for opportunities to help others. Ask questions in meetings. Follow-up after meeting someone new. Be yourself. Technical skills- A diverse Mentoring Action Plan (MAP) should include at least a little bit of skill-building. Once the activities are complete, you might narrow in on one single skill such as time management or public speaking and commit to making that “your thing” this year. Say to yourself, “starting today, I will look for any opportunity to polish my public speaking skills.” Here are some ways to do that: Pick up the phone- at least once a day- instead of sending a text or email. Prepare comments ahead of meetings and spend extra time ensuring they are clear and concise. Use fewer words and be direct. Be mindful of posture and looking others in the eye. Minimize fidgeting. Put away your phone. When you hear a good public speaker, jot down a few notes on why they were effective. Practice what you plan to say. Rehearse the anecdotes and gestures you plan to use. Show charisma.

  • 0 Driving the Mentoring Relationship

    I will never forget my first meeting with my first formal mentor. To set the scene, I was new in my career, new to my organization, and new to participating in a formal mentoring program. Painfully aware of my overall lack of experience, I arrived at the meeting expecting my mentor to tell me what to do. I sat across from him, notepad open, pen poised, ready to write down all the wise things I was sure he would say. So, imagine my surprise when it turned out that he had not prepared a lecture or even a list of things we should discuss. Furthermore, he had no intention of doling out wisdom or the secrets to success. Instead, he wanted me to do the talking. He wanted me to tell him what I needed to work on, what I intended to get out of our partnership, and how I envisioned achieving my goals. I was dumbfounded. I was the wide-eyed new mentee, and he was the seasoned expert—shouldn’t he be taking charge? My initial naivete about mentoring roles is all too common among new mentees, who often come to the partnership with either a conscious or subconscious expectation that their more experienced mentor will take the reins and drive the relationship. To dispel this misconception of the mentor’s role, we need to look no further than the definition of a mentor: A mentor is defined as an experienced and trusted adviser. Mentors use their expertise and knowledge to advise and support—not to direct, decide, or do. If a mentor is directing outcomes, they inadvertently defeat the purpose of mentoring, which is to help mentees learn to lead themselves. Thus, for effective mentoring to take place, the onus for driving the relationship must remain with the mentee, with the mentor seated firmly in a supportive role. Here are some things mentees can do (or mentors can encourage them to do) to take initiative and responsibility for building and maintaining mentoring momentum. Define goals and expectations. Chances are, if a person signs up for a formal mentoring program, they have at least some idea of what they hope to gain from it. Mentees should commit time to reflecting not only on specific objectives they would like to achieve, but also their reasons for those objectives and how they hope the mentor will be able to help. This introspection will enable mentees to clearly articulate their goals and expectations and prepare them for larger conversations with their mentor about their partnership and the Mentoring Action Plan. Initiate meetings and discussions. A mentoring pair’s first meeting should include a discussion of how much time they would like to commit to the partnership and how often they would like to meet. Once these parameters are established, the mentee is responsible for initiating meetings and discussions. This could be as simple as sending a recurring calendar invite or creating a calendar reminder to reach out after certain events or milestones. Another best practice is to end each meeting by answering the question, “When should we meet again?” Come prepared. Mentees who make the most of their mentoring experience will come to meetings with clear goals (“Today, I would like to accomplish…”), a list of topics or questions to discuss, and their own ideas or solutions for which to seek feedback from their mentor. They won’t show up unprepared expecting their mentor to do the work for them or tell them what to do, but rather will take the initiative to identify their own thoughts and ideas and arrive ready to ask for feedback, advice, and new perspectives to help them decide their next steps. Take initiative. Mentees sometimes comment that they wish their mentor would reach out more often or suggest more learning activities. However, these mentees may not have communicated their expectations to their mentor nor taken any action to resolve the issue for themselves. Have they increased their own outreach or researched and suggested additional learning activities to their mentor? The most successful mentees are those who take initiative rather than waiting for someone else to intuit what they would like or make it happen for them. Follow through. Mentees can drive the relationship forward and keep the partnership on track with one simple behavior: following through. By doing what they say they will do when they say they will do it, mentees demonstrate that they are serious about their goals and value their mentor’s time.

  • 0 Staying positive and standing out as a leader

    After bidding adieu to 2020, many of us look to the new year as the thing that will invigorate and set us free. But the truth is, while many good things await, 2021 still requires resilience and flexibility. Some of us will be transitioning into our offices after many months away, others might be shepherding children back into the groove of in-person school, and almost all of us will still be waiting for some signal that everything has returned to “normal.” In some ways, the most demanding part of managing these historical circumstances is the endurance run. Coming up on nearly a year since the pandemic changed life indefinitely, at times it seems as though the needle has barely moved. It might be harder to see through traditional news years’ resolutions… but do not despair. The coming days offer an opportunity for getting on track while being a light for others. As we continue wading through these challenging times, how can you stay positive and stand out as a leader? Avoiding overthinking Right now, even the most decisive personalities can fall into the pattern of over-thinking. Every time we leave our houses, we weigh calculated risks: “Should we sign up for this?” “Is that safe?” “Should I just ask someone else what they think about it?” There are opportunities to second-guess ourselves at every single turn. It makes it even worse that we are not getting the kind of positive reinforcement that goes along with face-to-face interaction. When it comes to work, seeing facial expressions at a conference table or bumping into people in the hallway is sometimes how we know a colleague likes an idea or isn’t frustrated. Without those subtle cues to assure us, we can overthink a reaction- or lack thereof- for a long time. That kind of circular thinking can cause decision-paralysis. Psychology Today recommends setting aside time to “ruminate.” Clinical psychologist Dr. Susan Nolen-Hoeksema says that scheduling daily rumination time will bring on the process of either moving on or finding a resolution. For example, if you’re nervous to put something on your supervisor’s calendar (Was she annoyed by my email earlier? I wonder if I should wait on this?), stop. Take a deep breath. Put the meeting on her calendar and commit to thinking through this action at 4pm during the 30-minute rumination time. Tell yourself you do not have time to worry about that right now. You can now successfully complete the rest of today’s tasks without fretting about what is worrying you and it is no longer taking up mental real estate. Take control of the work/life pendulum Professional and personal lives jumbled up in one big heap is a sign of the times. But even before all this, finding work/life balance was an endless journey. Perhaps the word “balance” sets too high an expectation. Life and work are on a pendulum and sometimes one side is swinging higher than the other. That is okay- just remember to give an occasional push to swing it back. If a work project is going to take tremendous focus and energy, let your family know. Ask them to share in the effort by giving you some extra quiet time  and approximate how long you’ll need whether it’s an hour or two weeks. If something at home is continuously slowing down your workload, maybe loop in your supervisor by asking for patience and tips for keeping the ball moving. Map out the estimated duration of a commitment to prevent over-promising and under-delivering. Proactiveness demonstrates to others that you have a handle on things but also might truly help you get a handle on things. Be a beacon. It’s hard to imagine taking on one more thing right now but staying positive can lift up the people around you who are experiencing the same transitions. Here are some simple ways to encourage others: Make time. If a colleague attempts small talk over email or even during a work-related call, make time for it. They might need a sense of connection. Ask how things are going for them too. Don’t complain. Resist the temptation to join in when others are commiserating. There could be clumsiness in getting the office back on track and there’s no reason to contribute to negativity. Be observant. If you hear it’s someone’s birthday, write a quick text or e-card. If a colleague makes a great point in a meeting, tell them. Being noticed makes people feel really good. Find empathy. Even if you find your way, not everyone is having the easiest time right now. Consider how their personal situations are playing out in their behavior at the office. Each of us is steering our own ship.

  • 0 January is National Mentoring Month!

    In these unprecedented times, mentors have made the difference!  They have provided a sense of stability, connection and support. In honor of National Mentoring Month, take a moment to thank a mentor who has made a difference in your life.  

  • 0 The Power of Empowering

    While mentoring relationships often focus on a mentoring plan with specific objectives, the true goal of mentorship is to provide mentorees the skills and confidence they need to proactively pursue their goals, now and in the future. When mentoring pairs recognize their plan as a starting point rather than the full extent of what can be achieved in their partnership, they lay the groundwork for empowering mentoring. The word “empower” means to give someone the authority or power to do something, or to make someone stronger and more confident, especially in controlling their life. When mentorees feel empowered, they believe in themselves and their ability to chart and steer their own professional path. Done well, mentoring can empower mentorees to recognize and leverage their strengths and resources, and to feel confident stepping into the unknown or uncertain and navigating barriers and challenges. Below are key mentoring behaviors that empower mentorees: Develop trust. The cornerstone of a strong mentoring partnership—is trust. For mentoring to be effective, both parties must feel they can be open and honest. Mentorees need to feel safe sharing their goals, questions, challenges, and concerns. They must believe that they can trust their mentor’s guidance and advice. Conversely, mentors need to feel safe sharing their experiences, lessons learned, and feedback. They need to know that their mentoree will respect and consider their input. While it takes time to develop trust, mentors can accelerate this process by being brave enough to “go first,” modeling trust and vulnerability. By listening proactively, sharing openly, and being fully present, mentors foster safe environment for the mentoree to reciprocate. Balance direction and support. Mentorees often come to the mentoring relationship with at least a vague sense of where they want to go and how to get there. While some may need direction and guidance to get moving or overcome a roadblock, many are also (consciously or subconsciously) looking for an added layer of support. It is important for mentors to provide both, and to do so in a way that empowers the mentoree to do the heavy lifting on their own with the reassurance that their mentor is there to spot them. For example, rather than outlining the steps a mentoree will need to take to accomplish a specific goal, mentors guide the mentoree to develop their own list, identify potential roadblocks and brainstorm ways to get past them. The mentor can still provide direction, but in a supporting role that places the mentoree in the driver’s seat and places the responsibility for decision-making squarely on their shoulders. The mentoree learns how to map their own path forward, while developing crucial skills like problem-solving, critical thinking, and risk assessment. Ask, don’t tell. In the same vein as balancing direction and support, asking rather than telling creates opportunities for mentorees to lead—and trust—themselves. This concept can be challenging for mentors, who often look forward to sharing their experiences and offering advice and guidance. But empowering often means doing more listening than telling. Asking questions forces the mentoree to think critically about their plans and perceptions. Why do you want to achieve that goal? What do you hope to gain? What are some possible outcomes? Mentors can use questioning to better understand their mentoree, but they can also ask questions intended to nudge their mentoree toward discovering new ideas, potential blind spots, or alternate courses of action. While mentors will share their anecdotes, advice, and feedback during the relationship, empowering mentors will commit more time to serving as a sounding board than offering up their own opinions. Offer feedback. When it is time to talk, feedback is a powerful tool for empowering mentorees. Effective feedback can inspire, uplift, and motivate. It can also increase self-awareness and confidence. In “Seven Characteristics (and Six Tools) That Support Meaningful Feedback,” Professor Esther Ntuli writes that effective feedback is constructive (focuses on instruction rather than correction), specific, measurable, sensitive (avoids negative language), balanced (points out strengths and weaknesses), and applicable. Mentors are in a unique position to provide meaningful and effective feedback because they have the full picture of where the mentoree is and where they hope to end up. They are privy to the mentoree’s goals, challenges, fears, concerns, and so on. This allows them to evaluate the mentoree through a wider lens and thus provide feedback that speaks to the bigger picture and overarching themes. Share information and resources. Mentors can also set the stage for continuous growth and development by demonstrating how to obtain information and resources in support of accomplishing a goal. Mentors empower mentorees by helping them broaden their professional network and connecting them with situational mentors, then encouraging them to continue to grow those networks and relationships on their own. The more expansive the mentoree’s network, the more connected they will be to the bigger picture and the more information they will receive. And the more they interact with situational mentors, the more comfortable they will be reaching out to subject matter experts when they have questions or a request. Understanding what resources are available and how to ask for them is a mentoring outcome that will have a lasting impact.

  • 0 LISTENING ON SCREEN

    Virtual working has turned many of us into unwitting stars of the 10” screen. And while the pandemic zeitgeist is that humanity, young and old, has evolved into sophisticated technology users, there are still some glitches. We have all learned to stay calm when we get kicked out of a meeting and mined our homes for the most compelling and tidy corners to use as Zoom backdrops. We even remember to mute our microphones. But the truth is, for many of us, collaborating through a screen still doesn’t feel natural. At The Training Connection, we’ve been developing new resources to provide mentees with strategies for driving their partnerships from a distance and engaging with their partners virtually. We tend to emphasize attributes such as being prepared, articulating goals, and following up as a means not only for maintaining progress but also avoiding awkward conversations. In this month’s newsletter, we are going to zero in on listening. Listening, as in the art of conversation When communicating through a screen, it can be hard to find the right rhythm between speaking and processing what others are saying. Part of the reason is that nonverbal clues are limited, for both parties. It’s harder to see if the other person is stifling a yawn or fidgeting (“Is this story boring to them?”). Sometimes we can’t get over our own image (“Is that really what my neck looks like?”) or maybe there’s person out of view asking a question (“Mom, can I have a snack?”). There’s at once a lot more going on and, as a result, a lot less in terms of conversational give and take. Psychology Today urges us to lean into listening in order to be heard ourselves. In a recent article, they explained, “in order to know what to say in response, we must know what has been said to us.” Since virtual meetings don’t afford us the same opportunities and cues as in-person meetings, we need to work really hard to simply hear what’s being said. Listening and being present makes us happy Here’s the thing. When unfocused and spacing out, we aren’t only dissatisfied with what we get out of the conversation, we’re downright unhappy. Harvard psychologists Matthew A. Killingsworth and Daniel T. Gilbert developed an app to study the “wandering mind.” They contacted 2,250 volunteers at random times throughout the day to find out what they were doing, what they were thinking while doing it, and whether they were happy. They learned that we spend 47% of our waking hours thinking about something other than what we are doing at that moment. According to Killingsworth and Gilbert, we are happiest when we are doing things like exercising or having a conversation- because those activities require us to stay focused on what we are doing. Put your active listening on display People who work in sales are trained to listen more than they talk. They understand that you can’t sell someone something they don’t want. A good salesperson will listen to their customer- a lot- to better understand their context and needs before recommending a product. Being a good listener makes it more likely that they will close the deal. Not to mention, people who are good listeners tend to be perceived as more sincere. Here are some ways to actively listen: Physical signs of listening Sit still, face forward, camera on. Look at the speaker (not at yourself). Take notes. Nod or smile when something they’ve said resonates. Show that you’ve received the message Ask questions periodically, which reinforces your learning and assures the speaker of your attention. Summarize what they’ve said (“so what you mean is…”). Hold judgement, don’t be defensive, avoid sharing opinions or personal anecdotes. Listen to them instead of planning what you’ll say next. Save a great idea until the end. Exude the spirit of a listener Be curious (“That’s fascinating. How did you become interested in this topic?”). Look for commonalities between you and the speaker (“I can’t believe you’re a runner too!”). Stay out of the chat. When people are presenting, don’t participate in the sidebar, stay in the main conversation. Set a good example and encourage others to speak Organizing your words ahead of the meeting so that you can speak in a calm manner with a clear message will help align the talk with the natural pauses. Preparing also ensures that you don’t overwhelm with too many details- which sets the stage for others to run on with their words instead of saying productive things. Send out the agenda in advance and consider starting with something that will encourage others to volunteer or speak up. Maybe even an ice breaker. Sometimes, if you are talking to someone who isn’t a good listener, you can lead them into better behavior by setting an example for how to do it. Save it One reason to stay quiet and listen instead is that it keeps you from using all your best material at once. Comedian Jerry Seinfeld once revealed that he believes his edge in joke-writing comes from his habit of writing things down and saving them for the right time. Don’t reveal too much. If you have a great story you want to tell, but it doesn’t fit the conversation perfectly, maybe save it for a time that it does. Also, your stories have the most impact when they’re fresh, not told over and over. If you aren’t always speaking, when you do speak- people listen.  

  • 0 Motivational Mentoring: Figuring out what motivates your mentee and helping them tap into that to achieve their goals

    The first time I signed up to be a mentor, I thought it would be easy. After all, I’d spent several years as a supervisor in the military—mentoring should be a breeze. So, it came as a bit of a shock when I discovered that mentoring was not only different than supervising, but in some ways, more challenging. The biggest obstacle? My mentee’s motivation—or seeming lack thereof. Despite clear goals, previous success, and the added support of a mentor’s encouragement and accountability, my mentee just did not seem willing to follow through on his mentoring plan. We’ve all heard the Chinese proverb, “You give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. You teach him to fish, and you give him an occupation that will feed him for a lifetime.” As mentors, we want to teach our mentees to fish. And while my mentee came to the program with a list of goals, what he was really casting out into the waters for was the motivation to achieve them. So, how do you help a mentee find their motivation? Below are some tips that I found useful. Empathize but don’t assume responsibility. At first, I felt frustrated with my mentee. I questioned why he signed up for the program if he did not intend to do the work. But the hard truth is that we all—every single one of us—have set goals that we then either abandoned completely or endured several failed attempts before finally achieving them. Draw from those experiences to empathize with your mentee and relate to their struggle to get and stay motivated. Better yet, share those experiences with them and talk about how you overcame your own motivation struggles. Be careful, though, that while you are putting yourself in your mentee’s shoes, you do not start trying to take steps for them. You cannot make your mentee achieve their goals, nor should you. The more you do for them, the less you are actually helping (think fish vs. fishing). Do not assume responsibility for their successes or failures. And if you find yourself struggling with the urge to take over or becoming increasingly frustrated with their lack of progress, reflect on your own motivations. Are you thinking about your mentee’s progress as a measure of your success as a mentor? Are you thinking about how you would do things and expecting your mentee to take the same approach because it obviously makes the most sense? Famed director Steven Spielberg once said, “The delicate balance of mentoring someone is not creating them in your own image but giving them the opportunity to create themselves.” Help your mentee recognize and admit that they are struggling with motivation. Help them understand things that have worked for others. Help them identify ways they could try motivating themselves. But recognize that this is the most you can—or should—do. The rest is up to them. Be willing to have a difficult conversation. Your mentee may not realize they are struggling with motivation. After a few meetings with my mentee, I realized that what sounded like excuses to me were, in his mind, insurmountable obstacles. He did not think he struggled with motivation—he had instead convinced himself that these challenges that he did not want to work to overcome were challenges that he could not overcome no matter what he did. It was time for a kind, but firm, reality check. So, I reached down into my arsenal of anecdotes and told him about a time I talked myself out of achieving a goal by focusing on all the things that were in my way. The hardest part to swallow about that failure, I shared, was that I will never know whether I could have succeeded because, deep down, I know only that I did not truly try. Discover what drives them. There is no such thing as an unmotivated person. Everyone is motivated to do something. The same mentee who was not motivated to work on his mentoring action plan was working on a master’s degree in his off time. Clearly, he had motivation. The trick is helping your mentee identify what drives them in the areas where they are easily self-motivated and figure out how to transfer that to the task they struggle to complete. Schedule one or multiple mentoring sessions to focus exclusively on motivation. Prime the conversation by briefly sharing your own lessons learned about digging deep and finding your true motivation. Ask your mentee to reflect on times they felt excited and motivated to accomplish a goal in the past and to honestly assess why. Then, ask open-ended questions about their new goals: Why do you want to do that? What makes you excited about it? How long has that been your dream? What have you done so far? What is your plan?Listen closely to your mentee and keep a list of obvious—and potential underlying—motivators that you hear in their answers. Once you have worked together to identify some of their key drivers, discuss ways that they can apply those to achieve their current goals. Don’t give up. When your whole purpose as a mentor is to help someone succeed, it can feel counterintuitive and downright impossible to disassociate your success from theirs. But you must remember that being an effective mentor is about what you do, not your mentee. Just as you cannot take credit for their successes, you cannot take responsibility for their failures. Make time, show up, give honest and meaningful feedback, and follow through on things you have offered to do. If your mentee is not doing their part, be willing to talk to them—and listen—about what is holding them back. Don’t accept excuses, but don’t judge, don’t scold, and above all, don’t give up on them Sometimes, a mentee just needs someone else to recognize their potential and keep believing in them when others would have thrown up their hands. A mentee’s lack of motivation can be a serious test of your own. But even if your mentee never takes a single step toward achieving their goals, if you continuously put your best mentoring foot forward, you will have given them great mentorship. What they do with it is 100 percent their choice and their responsibility.

  • 0 FINDING MENTORS EVERYWHERE

    In a formal mentoring program, facilitators invest heavily in pairing mentors and mentees. They sort through demographics such as communication style, career trajectory, and experience. They analyze requests and preferences, aiming to create a mutually beneficial experience for both participants. This involved process is critical when planning successful partnerships that will meet the goals outlined in a prescribed program. There is another type of mentoring, however, that is less reliant on a well-engineered matching system. In this month’s newsletter, we will talk about soaking up mentors using daily interactions with colleagues, organizational leaders, or anyone that you find inspiring. In other words, we want to encourage taking on mentors who don’t exactly know that they’re mentoring you. Soaking up a mentor might mean, actively noting the way a well-respected colleague handles an ongoing prickly relationship or observing how a productive supervisor manages their calendar. Every day we are connecting with people on conference calls and email chains who are setting an example of what to do or what not to do in any given situation. Mentors are all around- it’s up to you to take the opportunity to learn from them. Know what you are searching Make a list of immediate needs and long-term goals. Where are your trouble spots? Perhaps your two-year plan is to reach a specific grade-level but you need to get your name out there to even be in consideration for promotion. Maybe you’re struggling to carve a line between professional expectations and personal obligations and looking for clarity on fitting in everything. It could be that the emails you thoughtfully compose are not getting quick responses, leaving you with the sense that the way you make requests isn’t effective. Zeroing in on what you need to do better will ensure that you pick up on the right things when observing others. Take notes and flag examples so that you can refer back to them. Create opportunities to learn Look for relatable learning opportunities. As leadership author Dan Black explains, “It’s all about being observant, which requires having attentive eyes and ears.” Wherever you are, take the time to actively engage, especially if there is someone in the room who you’ve identified as an informal mentor. Raise your hand and get involved in the conversation. Asking questions demonstrates focus and attention, a desire to dig beneath the surface, solve the problem, learn the skill. Asking questions ensures understanding and demonstrates a hunger for learning. Some tips for asking good questions include: Have a general idea ahead of time about the kind of information you seek. If joining a meeting, read ahead to know what is going to be discussed and what areas might need more explaining. Questions should be targeted and meaningful. Show openness when looking for details and try to keep preconceived opinions to yourself. Instead of “I really can’t figure out this weird system and wanted to ask….”, you might say, “What have you heard people love best about this system?” Only ask one-part questions. Overpacking will make it hard for the respondent to offer a clear answer. Leave your comfort zone Don’t be afraid to share your ideas when collaborating with someone you admire, especially colleagues with more seniority. Seek opportunities to talk about the way you have approached a problem and muse about potential strategies. It’s okay to make mistakes when trying to explain. People who know the issue better will jump in with workarounds or additional problem-solving. Consider it free feedback. Be curious Psychology Today explains curiosity as “a combination of intelligence, persistence, and hunger for novelty.” Curiosity adds zest. Cultivate your curiosity about things like leadership and industry knowledge by looking to mentors outside of the office. You might follow a writer on LinkedIn, subscribe to a notable speaker’s weekly podcast, or peruse an industry leader’s Instagram account. Read their biographies and research how they came to acquire their expertise. When they share articles on the topics that interest you, drill deeper to see what sources they have linked or referenced and read those sources for more information and context. Even look to motivational speakers or bestselling authors who demonstrate strong character and an energy that speaks to you. Curate a file of links and snapshots of posts by these lofty mentors so that you can look to them for broad inspiration. Stay curious and keep seeking knowledge. Mentoring is an important contributor to a successful and satisfying career. Joining a formal mentoring program shows your ambition and drive but don’t forget to soak up the mentors who are in your life each and every day. Make an effort to learn from them and follow their wisdom.