I have a friend whose favorite pastime is scuba diving. I am scared of water and can never get myself to go for a swim , forget diving. Fear is a very subjective emotion. What one fears may sound like a joke to another. Mentoring however is a partnership where both the mentor and the protege need to understand each other’s emotional framework and use this learning as the foundation for the mentoring superstructure.
If I’m asked to give one top tip on how to be a mentor then I would say – assuage protege’s apprehensions.
A protege is an adult learner who is unsure of why the exercise is being undertaken. In that context the process is seen as a threat to the current status – something that questions the proteges skills or knowledge. This creates an apprehension in the protege , making them defensive towards learning. The protege has to be sensitised to the fact that fear is more a liability than an asset in learning and can hamper effective transfer of knowledge. The mentor has to consciously take the protege out of the state or “terror” and create an atmosphere of effective learning.
Understanding the root cause of the fear, may not be feasible in all cases considering the short span of a mentoring partnership. The fears can be a result of past experiences , irrational beliefs or learnings which are hardwired into the individual making it increasingly impossible for the mentor to tackle.
Then how can it be handled?
A calm and composed mentor can soothe the fears of the protege. The mentor has to slowly win the trust and then instill confidence in the protege driving home the element of concern in even the minutest interaction. Sincere compassion, active listening and demonstration of interest in what the protege has to say is the right way to go. The protege should at no point in time have the feeling that he is dealing with an “enemy”.
To engage the protégé , it is important to transport them from the “flee or fight” stage to the “learn and discover” stage. This is probably the biggest hurdle that a mentor faces , and once crossed successfully, the protégé would never feel the strain of learning. Here is where empathy becomes a powerful weapon. The mentor has to continuously convey messages to the protégé that they are similar and that the partnership does not have the superior – subordinate connotation. At the same time, it is important not to confuse empathy with sympathy. It is important to be understanding but that understanding should not be used to correct the protégé. Rather it should be used to build the confidence of the mentee both in themselves and in the process.
Seasoned mentors , a lot of times are stingy in words of praise. A popular notion on mentoring is that lavishing appreciation on the protégé can stagger the pace of improvement which is not really true. It is important to be sincere in appreciation and provide it wherever necessary, but care should be taken to not let it go overboard.
Read on to understanding the finer aspects of mentoring…..