The most effective mentors offer support, challenge, patience and enthusiasm while they guide others to new levels of achievement. They expose their mentees to new ideas, perspectives and standards, and to the values and norms of society. Although mentors are more knowledgeable and experienced, they do not view themselves as superior to those whom they mentor.
Once a person has decided to become a mentor, questions arise about how to establish a productive mentoring relationship. Knowing the expected stages of a mentoring relationship—as well as the mentee’s personal characteristics, family and socio-economic status (race, gender, age, economic status, family status)—will alleviate many of these anxieties for the mentor.
Establishing a positive mentoring relationship is very much like establishing other valued human relationships. Both parties must have a genuine desire to understand the values and expectations of the other person, and both parties must become sensitive to the other’s feelings and needs. At the same time, mentoring relationships differ from personal relationships because they are professional in nature. Mentors are responsible for conveying and upholding the norms, values and goals that are mutually agreed upon in the mentoring contract.
For a mentoring relationship to be healthy, it must be evolutionary in nature rather than static. The relationship changes over time, since its purpose is to enable the mentee to acquire new knowledge, skills and standards of social competence. The perceptions of both members of the relationship evolve as the mentee’s performance reaches new levels under the mentor’s guidance and support.
The Four Stages of a Mentoring Relationship
Successful mentoring relationships move through four definitive stages. The time spent in each area differs from relationship to relationship, but the progression is uniform.
The mentor and mentee become acquainted and informally clarify their common interests, shared values and future goals and dreams. If taking time to become acquainted with one another’s interests, values and goals is given a high priority, the relationship seems to get off to a better start.
In this stage, there may be a lack of communication or difficulty in communicating. Mentees may be reluctant to trust mentors and may attempt to manipulate them. The relationship may remain in this stage from one to six meetings.
In the professional world, individuals who have desired to become mentors have analyzed aspiring newcomers in their field and have selected promising young protégés to nurture. Most of these relationships work out very well. Even though the commonalities between the mentor and mentee in a community mentoring setting may be less than that of a mentoring pair in a business setting, the methods of mentoring remain similar. Mentors must be careful not to allow their preconceptions to dictate how they will approach the relationship and define who they think the mentee should become.
While charting a course for her approach to the relationship, the mentor must consider three factors:
- The relative eagerness the mentee brings to this relationship.
- The similarities in your personal styles (animated, low-key; spontaneous, reflective; gentle, harsh; reticent, boisterous).
- The similarities in your expected short- and long-term goals.
The mentor and mentee communicate initial expectations and agree upon some common procedures and expectations as a starting point. In the less likely event that the two individuals may not be compatible, the pair is able to part on a friendly basis. In stage 2, there will be more listening, sharing and confiding in one another. Values will be compared, and personal concerns will be expressed. During this stage, the mentor will likely be introduced to the mentee’s family. The relationship may remain in this stage from one to three months.
The mentor and mentee begin to accomplish the actual purposes of mentoring. Gradually, needs become fulfilled, objectives are met and intrinsic growth takes place. New challenges are presented and achieved. Stage 3 is the stage of acceptance, but it is also a stage of change, where a mentee is more likely to exercise self-discipline.
The mentor and mentee close their mentoring association and redefine their relationship. Follow-up is conducted.
In summary, over these four stages the mentor and mentee will acquaint themselves with one another, determine values and goals, achieve those goals and close their relationship.
Getting Acquainted in Stage 1
There is no specific formula to integrate the proper personal and professional qualities to create a successful mentoring relationship. Some individuals are attracted to opposites; others are attracted to those with similar interests, styles and backgrounds. Regardless, implementing the following suggestions will facilitate relationship development.
- Introduce yourself to your mentee and let him or her know how to address you. Be confident and smile!
- Learn how to pronounce your mentee’s name. Write it down correctly and phonetically.
- Give your mentee the confidence that you will be dependable and will be coming to see her on a regular basis. Tell him the method of notification to use if either of you is unable to attend a scheduled appointment.
- Encourage your mentee to give you a tour of the school.
- Use an icebreaker activity to talk about yourself and to allow your mentee to talk about herself.
- Accept your mentee as he is. Be nonjudgmental and maintain composure if she initially acts in a shocking manner. The mentee may try to test your limits.
- Use positive reinforcement: “You are a great tour guide.” “You made me feel welcome.” “It has been fun getting to know you through this exercise.” “I will be looking forward to next week.”
- Avoid allowing the mentee to lead you into talking negatively about other students, teachers or members of the administration.
- Ask open-ended questions that cannot be answered simply with a “yes” or“no.”
- Let your mentee specifically know when the next meeting will be.
- Begin the second week by reviewing the past week’s activities. Try to learn more about your mentee.
- Help your mentee to understand the rationale for and value of goal planning. Get him to think about a long- or short-term goal that he would like to plan for the next meeting.
- End every session on a positive note.
(Points have been adapted from VIPS Youth Motivator Program, Volusia [Florida] County Schools .)
The following problem-solving model is designed to assist the mentor with a step-by-step approach in formulating effective individual goals. Once individuals have decided upon their values, self identity and future ideals, they will then need to establish the goals to carry them on the way to success.
But, because most at-risk middle school students have not assessed themselves in such depth, defining values will be a continuous exercise throughout the relationship. Through goal setting, mentees will discover their values. To set effective goals, it is important to observe the following guidelines.
A goal must be:
- Conceivable. The mentee must be able to conceptualize the goal and clarify what the first step or two will be.
- Believable. In addition to being consistent with his or her personal value system, the mentee must believe that he or she can reach the goal. If the mentee has a low self-concept or is from an economically disadvantaged area, this may affect her goal setting.
- Achievable. The goals the mentee sets must be accomplished within his given strengths and abilities. To determine the mentee’s strengths and abilities, set a goal, and then look at the individual components of that goal. Does the mentee have what it takes (physically, mentally, materially) to achieve this goal? Even if a goal is believable, it is not always achievable.
- Controllable. Sometimes goals involve others. If the others do not care to participate, then the goal is not controllable.
- Measurable. There must be some standard of measuring the progress achieved on a goal. Goals are measurable when they are broken down into intermediate steps with deadlines. Have mentees taken steps to completing their goals, and have they completed them in the expected time?
- Desirable. It may sound obvious, but a goal must be something that the mentee absolutely wants to accomplish. Often, mentees set goals merely to meet the expectations of others.
- Stated with no alternative. The mentee should work toward only one goal at a time.
Even though the mentee may set out for one goal, she can stop at any time and drop it for a new one. Always discuss why the original goal did not work. But when the mentee changes goals, the new goal must be stated with no alternative.
- Conducive to growth. The goal should never be destructive to the mentee, others or society. If a student seeks a potentially destructive goal, he should be encouraged to consider a different goal.
Points adapted from the Resource Manual for Campus-Based Youth Mentoring Programs (81.82).
Baylor University’s Community Mentoring for Adolescent Development 61
The mentees will be encouraged to set goals using the mnemonic S.M.A.R.T. (Specific,
Measurable, Action-Oriented, Realistic and Timely). These five areas cover all of the necessary parameters in goal planning while helping mentees to memorize those parameters. Goal planning will be discussed in more detail in the goal-setting chapter.
Communication in Stages 2 and 3
Effective verbal and nonverbal communication is paramount to the success of the mentoring relationship. Mentors have the responsibility for effective communication because they are the primary source of support and challenge to the mentees. Because the mentees will most likely be different from the mentors in age—and sometimes culture, race and gender—the mentors must know the different nuances of communication and interpretation particular to the mentee. Part of this understanding will be gained through trial and error in the relationship, but there are also factors to consider beforehand:
- How do I perceive myself in the many roles a mentor plays?
- How well do I understand my mentee’s overall expectations for our mentoring relationship?
- In general, is my communication with him or her effective, including my nonverbal and verbal communication?
- What is my objective in this conversation?
- Am I too formal or informal?
- What assumptions have I made in this conversation?
- What kind of response do I expect from my mentee?
- Am I prepared for a very different kind of response?
- Do I give her enough time to respond or ask questions?
- If I think I have been misunderstood, can I clarify and paraphrase?
- Am I willing to set aside my agenda to listen to his at any time?
Closure in Stage 4
Closure in the relationship occurs in two major places. Naturally, closure occurs when the
relationship is redefined (Stage 4) at the end of the mentoring term. But, proper closure needs to be achieved after each meeting with the mentee.
The following steps should be taken during or after each meeting with the mentee:
- During the first meeting, mentors should tell their mentees how long they will be typically meeting. Mentors should remind their mentees each week about the duration of the meeting. If the mentor lets the mentee know that he or she has another appointment five minutes before the normal ending of the session, then the mentee will feel unappreciated. Giving the notification prior to the meeting will meet expectations and avoid disappointment.
- Before leaving each week, mentors should discuss achievements and give some positive feedback to their mentees. Mentees need positive closure to make them feel upbeat, to look forward to the next week and to motivate them to work harder during the week to please the mentor.
- Both the mentor and the mentee should keep a mutual calendar that shows the mentee when the meetings will take place. Their calendar should include vacations, business trips, holidays and other events that would disturb the normal routine. The mentor should remind the mentee a week in advance of departing and should then send a postcard while away.
- Mentors should not overstay their welcome by trying to fill extra time if they do not have activities to last throughout the duration of the meeting. If mentors do this frequently, mentees may find them boring. The best solution is to be over-prepared.
- The mentor should take this mentorship and the weekly commitment seriously. These students do not need one more insincere or unreliable relationship in their lives.