Becoming a mentor means making a deep commitment to getting to know another person and supporting them as they navigate life’s challenges. The feeling you get when you cultivate a meaningful and close relationship can be indescribable. However, building a strong mentoring relationship can also feel overwhelming. You might be asking: “What do I have to offer as a mentor?” How do I make a good first impression? How do I know if I am doing this ‘right’?”
When these thoughts come to mind, remember to breathe. There is no one recipe for a successful mentoring relationship. Success can look different depending on the needs of each individual, the strengths each of you bring, and the dynamics of your unique relationship. Sometimes, being a mentor is more about listening closely and asking questions than touting advice and sharing your wisdom with your mentee.
Sometimes, being a mentor is more about listening closely and asking questions than touting advice and sharing your wisdom with your mentee.
This National Mentoring Month, we’re sharing seven questions to consider for a strong start and a deeper understanding of yourself and your mentee:
1. What are some things that are an important part of your identity?
This question can often reveal a diverse range of facts about you and your mentee so it is important to keep your conversation open and practice active listening. You may learn new things about each other’s values, quirks, fears, unique personality traits, the people they hold dear, etc. If you or your mentee struggle to find a natural back and forth, give them a couple of narrowed follow up questions to get the conversation flowing and they will take it from there.
2. Who are some people you admire, past or present?
We all have people who we look up to or see as a role models (whether they are aware of it or not). Discovering the people your mentee admires most can provide insight into the traits, skills and experiences that they value. This can also be an opportunity to ask questions around their definition of success and how they would like to see their future selves.
3. What would you like to know about me?
Mentoring is a two-way street! Give your mentee the opportunity to get to know you. The more they feel heard and understood, the more comfortable they will feel opening up and sharing more about their life and tough situations they may be facing. Do not be afraid to have some fun and throw in some fun and quirky facts that can become conversation starters!
4. How do you like to give and receive feedback/advice?
Have you ever found yourself giving someone advice and suffer from a misunderstanding. We’ve all been there! Mutual feedback is an essential part of mentoring but no one wants their words taken out of context. Ask your mentee how they prefer receiving and giving feedback so you understand how to best approach it when the time comes. Take it a step further and ask them to provide a couple of examples of a time when they received feedback (constructive or positive) well and take notes on the approach and delivery.
5. How do you prefer to communicate? Text, email, in person?
A lot of times we assume that people like to communicate in the same ways that we do, but that‘s not always true. Some people love to text while others appreciate quick phone calls or a short email message. And while in-person communication isn’t always possible, sometimes stepping away from your screens and connecting face-to-face is the best solution. Having this talk upfront with your mentee to understand preference can prevent missed phone calls and unanswered emails and increase the back-and-forth conversations that helps mentoring relationships evolve over time.
6. What’s the best way to find balance in our schedules to make the most of this relationship?
Finding a day and time to connect that works for both parties can be challenging. Save yourself some time and scheduling headaches by sharing your availability with your mentee and getting a sense of theirs. Also, make sure that it is understood that scheduling conflicts may come up so it’s important to give one another the proper heads up if a meeting needs to be rescheduled and to look for alternative ways to still check in.
7. What are some goals you want to achieve as a mentoring pair?
When you’re at the stage with your mentee that you’re ready to set some future goals, take the time to dig a little deeper on what brought you together in the first place and the ways you’d like to grow. Mentoring is truly a mutually beneficial relationship, so make sure you are also sharing your hopes for your partnership and how your mentee is making a positive impact on your life. Reciprocity is key to developing any trusting and healthy relationship.
Every day, City Year AmeriCorps members are serving as mentors, tutors and role models, showing up for kids by serving full-time in schools to prepare students with the skills and mindsets they need to reach their full potential. Are you ready to become a mentor in the classroom for students in one of our 29 cities across the nation? Learn how you can get involved with City Year.