the most of mentoring when you can't meet in person.
Do you have
to be face-to-face to have a good mentoring relationship? One might think
so. But the fact is, it's not always possible. These days, healthcare
organizations are characterized by multiple locations, sometimes widely
dispersed. Consequently, the right mentor for a person at a particular
stage in his or her career may not necessarily be located nearby. If mentoring
is to continue as a viable resource for those in healthcare management,
matching mentoring pairs across locations should be an option. That being
said, with a little preparation and guidance, a long-distance mentoring
relationship can work, and work well.
Whether you are a mentor or a protege, as you begin any mentoring relationship,
understand that the planning and preparation you and your mentoring partner
carry out is crucial to its success. Setting up a strong distance relationship
begins at your first meeting. Ideally, this "link-up meeting"
should be held face-to-face, if possible. Meeting in person helps you
get to know each other more quickly and accelerates trust building that
will serve you well as you work in separate locations. If meeting in person
is not possible, your first meeting can be conducted by telephone following
some guidelines. During this link-up meeting, the protege should discuss
his or her learning goals and areas for development, and both partners
should talk about their expectations for the relationship and each other.
for the Meeting
In a long-distance mentoring relationship, most of your conversations
will take place via telephone. To make the most of these conversations,
both the mentor and protege should be prepared. Before the first phone
meeting, the mentor should review the protege's learning goals established
in the link-up meeting. Also, time expectations and the meeting agenda
should be set. This information can be communicated through e-mail or
fax. One of the key agenda items for the first meeting is for the mentoring
partners to work together to plan the protege's activities for the first
two months. These activities should help the protege achieve his or her
a Phone Meeting
To run a productive phone meeting, a clear structure for beginning the
mentoring session and for following through on each agenda item is necessary.
Following is an example of how a phone meeting might proceed.
1. To kick
off phone session, the mentor must review the protege's last assignment
or planned activity. What did they protege accomplish? Is there something
new that the protege tried that was successful? What challenges did the
protege overcome and what challenges are still to be met? What did the
protege learn about him/herself?
the mentor and protege together should review what the protege has learned
from activities since the last meeting. What actions worked well? What
changes would the protege make in the future? How can the mentor help?
the partners should plan activities to complete before the next meeting.
The protege is responsible for identifying the next learning opportunity,
and together the mentoring partners should decide on an appropriate activity
or assignment. Before the meeting has ended, the partners should also
decide on a date when the protege must provide an update on the assignment.
While sending e-mail may be quick and easy, it shouldn't be the main form
of communication in a mentoring relationship. E-mail is best for:
is not appropriate for:
or requesting meetings with your partner
meetings and verifying plans
non time-urgent questions to the mentor
conclusions drawn from experience if writing is the best way to address
a particular issue
a sense of contact when one or both partners are finding it difficult
to schedule mutual time
impressions on sensitive issues
an issue that can be "read" in more ways than one. Feelings
can be hurt without in-the-moment response and resolution.
impressions of each other's behavior or discussing the behavior of or
impressions about a third party
While the content of a distance mentoring meeting and a face-to-face meeting
are the same, distance mentoring presents a special challenge, complicated
by the inability of the partners to observe each other's reactions. Nonverbal
cues will be much less obvious; careful listening to tone and volume of
voice is crucial. With conscious effort, mentoring partners can develop
the ability to understand the subtle signs of feelings, as well as more
sense of the protege's underlying feelings over the phone is a unique
challenge for the mentor. It is equally difficult for the protege to discern
a mentor's empathy. Therefore, both partners must take care to verbally
signal their understanding of what the other is communicating. Acknowledging
an understanding of the person's message by nodding just won't do.
are some communication hints for both mentors and proteges:
for nonverbals. Sometimes you can tell how people feel not by what
they say but how they say it. Keep your ear tuned for a rising or lowering
of voice; a change in tone; silence; a quickening or slowing of speaking
pace; sighs, pauses, and similar expressions.
behavior. Tell your partner what you are "hearing" or "sensing"
in that person's expression. Check on feelings by asking your partner
how he or she feels about a certain issue.
specifics. Ask that your partner express thoughts and opinions clearly
and with focus.
agreements. Don't let the meeting close without summarizing what you
feel has been agreed to, testing the accuracy of your perception.
mentoring will succeed as mentors and proteges think through what they
want from a mentoring partnership and use some commonsense guidelines
to manage the relationship. Every new distance mentoring pair that is
successful adds immeasurably to the organization's ability to satisfy
the mentoring needs of all.
Ambrose is a managing partner of Perrone-Ambrose Associates, Inc., and
the author of A Mentor's Companion.
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Executive, March/April 2003