Goal setting is essential to any sort of progress a mentoring pair might want to make. Without well-defined goals, it’s difficult to maintain focus on what it is that you’re actually trying to get out of mentoring.
That said, one mentoring ‘trap’ that many pairs fall into is focusing on the goal while forgetting the human. That is, when your meet-ups, communication, and entire mindset centre on targets without any room for the social, interpersonal aspect of the relationship. In these sorts of situations, the problem isn’t the goals themselves (trust us, those are good to have). Rather, the difficulty comes from not having a strong relationship to fall back on when there’s any sort of delay or need to reconfigure your goals. Without a mutual sense of trust, it can be difficult to make changes or persevere if things go south.
What’s more, a superficial ‘worky’ relationship just isn’t very fun for those involved. The motivation to schedule a mentoring session and commit to your goals simply isn’t going to be there if you don’t know your mentoring partner well or enjoy their company.
For these reasons, we at Project Thrive recommend getting to know your mentoring partner before setting your goals. Some people naturally take a while to open up to others whereas there are those of us who seem to have the ability to establish meaningful connections almost instantaneously. Regardless of where you stand, the recommendations below should be useful to all new and existing mentoring pairs.
What Should I Ask My Mentoring Partner?
Below are just some meaningful questions that you and your mentoring partner could work through in your first session. These might come up naturally, but having them available before your first session could be useful:
- Why your mentoring partner decided to enter the tech industry
- Asking your mentoring partner to describe their journey to their current role
- Asking your mentoring partner where they see themselves in a few years
- Asking your mentoring partner why they got into mentoring
- Getting to know each other’s pet peeves Where you might find your mentoring partner outside of work
Making a conscious effort to understand what your mentoring partner is trying to say will enable you to get to know your partner much better. Again, this is easier said than done at times. It’s easy to get distracted, lose focus, and respond to the ‘gist’ of the other person. As a mentor, you might have a tendency to prepare counterarguments or clarifications while listening to your mentee. And as a mentee, you might be refining any questions you think are important to ask your mentor after they finish speaking. But preparing yourself for a conversation with these active listening tips can make the difference between a superficial mentoring relationship and a meaningful mentoring relationship.
Initially you’ll both be ‘testing’ each other out in conversation. There’ll inevitably be a few awkward moments you’ll both need to overcome as you learn one another’s general mood, humour, outlook, and vulnerabilities. The earlier you embrace these moments, the easier it is to move past them. In fact, you learn a fair amount about someone through these moments. It’s temping to resort to superficial chit-chat in an attempt to fill in the “gaps”, but what you’ll notice is that you behave less like yourself and more like whatever your idea is of what the other person might be more comfortable with—and that doesn’t help the other person get to know you any better.
And even in a strong mentoring relationship, sometimes a conversation just runs its course. If you notice that you or your mentoring partner are resorting to ‘small talk’ after a while, don’t be afraid to call it a day and pick things up in your next meeting.
Getting Out of A Stale Patch
In Project Thrive’s 12-week mentoring programme, we called it the ‘6-week-itch’—the sense that the quality or initial ‘vibe’ of the mentoring has begun to dwindle. This is true for both mentors and mentees: the mentor might perceive a lack of commitment or enthusiasm from the mentee and the mentee might feel as though their mentor is too fixated on the rate of their progress.
This doesn’t necessarily relate to any progress you may (or may not) have made towards your goals. It could even be the case that one of you feels your meetings and conversations are too ‘formulaic’, with little room for deviation or creativity. In these situations, it’s often useful to pump the goal-brakes: make sure that your next conversation or meeting is not goal-centred, but vibe-centred. This could mean a simple veto on anything to do with your goals or even an active bonding session with some gaming or ice-breakers (here’s an extensive list of both in-person and virtual gaming options for two). Anything that isn’t too serious and gives you both a serotonin boost is a great way to re-establish a good mentoring vibe.
As you get to know one another, it’s important to keep in mind the secret sauce to working together successfully with your mentoring partner. Sometimes a quick review of what qualities make for a good relationship can prevent things from going stale (or even sour). Getting to know your mentoring partner also means having clear expectations for your relationship.
But these are just a few examples of how to get to know your mentoring partner —what ideas and examples do you have that could help other get to know their mentoring partners better? Drop them down below 👇