communication about tough issues can deepen your relationship.
your protege takes away from the mentoring experience hinges on your ability
to be forthright in your communication. Avoiding conversations about difficult
issues because it makes you uncomfortable will block progress in your
mentoring relationship. At the same time, an approach that is too aggressive
may make your protege defensive and closed off to helpful feedback. Following
are appropriate ways to engage in authentic discussion with your protege
that will allow your relationship to grow and more learning to occur.
stage. Let your protege know that sometimes you will have to discuss
some uncomfortable issues and that such frank conversations will only
deepen the relationship. If your protege knows to expect these types of
discussions, then that person is less likely to take your criticisms personally
and will be more open to learning. Tell your protege that you are practicing
to be more authentic and encourage the individual to do so as well.
Sometimes mentors spend more time speaking about superficial matters than
addressing significant underlying issues in their relationships because
they don't want to hurt their protege's feelings. Do not let concern about
your protege's reactions inhibit you from being straightforward. If your
communication is not honest, integrity is lost and the relationship suffers.
Look beyond the momentary discomfort to see how the truth will bring deeper
meaning to your mentoring relationship.
of how your message comes across. Once you have worked up the courage
to address a difficult matter with your protege, pay attention to how
you deliver the message. Your body language and tone of voice say more
to your protege than your actual words. While you may think you are being
up front and helpful in your discussions, your protege may think you are
being rude and want to discontinue what could be a productive conversation.
Practice delivering constructive feedback by rehearsing what you will
say with an outside party. You will get a better sense of how you sound
and can assess whether your communication will come across as you intend
it to. Also, be careful not to send mixed signals through your body language.
For example, your protege might perceive you to be angry because you have
a frown on your face during your conversation or your arms are folded
in front of you. You may not be angry at all, but simply concentrating
on what your protege is saying.
on the impact. In any discussion, particularly one where you will
be offering criticism, it is important to clarify that you are sharing
your perspective rather than being judgmental. When communicating with
your protege about a performance issue, let the individual know how his
or her actions affect you. For example, if you want to confront your protege
about always being late for your meetings, communicate how that consistent
tardiness makes you feel. You might say, "I'm frustrated that our
meetings are not starting on time. My reason for telling you this is because
I value this relationship and our time together and I want us to maintain
a positive working relationship." Your protege is likely to get the
message about the importance of being on time without feeling scolded.
good example. Open and honest communication can go far in helping
your protege learn and grow professionally and personally. However, if
you don't practice what you preach, your communication becomes less powerful.
For example, expressing your concern about your protege's tardiness will
have little impact on the person if you are often late to meetings yourself.
Be a model of authenticity by consistently aligning your actions with
your values and intentions.
in your mentoring relationship may not come easy at first. However, with
practice you will be able to develop the communication skills that are
essential to building a good relationship with and motivating peak performance
from your protege.
is senior associate and L. Rose Hollister is a principal at Perrone-Ambrose
Associates, Inc., an organizational development consulting firm that helps
organizations create mentoring cultures.
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Executive, November/December 2001