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Mentoring skills don’t just magically appear, although some -- such as patience – may be innate. Many others must be learned. To be a good mentor, you must have good communication skills. You must know how to build professional relationships and recognize when to support, when to push and when to let your mentee fly free. All of these skills take practice; mentoring may be one of those things that you must learn mostly by doing.
Learn to Communicate
Communication skills may be one of the most important aspects of being a good mentor. Mentors must have the ability to communicate complex topics and must also be able to listen carefully. One way to improve these skills is to ask for feedback. A mentee may not feel comfortable with providing that feedback, especially early in the relationship. Ask someone else you trust to tell you whether you are clear, concise and thorough when you speak. Check up on your listening skills as well, to ensure you allow the other person to reflect or discuss issues without interrupting or leaping ahead to your own points. You may be able to find courses in communication skills that can help you polish your techniques.
Mentoring is often about relationships. As a mentor, you must continually build your own network to stay abreast of developments in your field. You should also develop relationships with people outside your area of expertise to prevent insular thinking that could hamper your ability to be an effective mentor. These networks, both within and without your organization, help you keep an eye out for possible threats and opportunities for your mentee. Join fraternal organizations, professional organizations and groups, and attend fundraisers, award ceremonies or other nonprofessional activities to expand your network.
Practice Makes Perfect
No skill develops without practice. Part of learning to be a mentor is to simply fill that role. Encourage two-way communication and let the mentee know you're also learning from the process. Listen to yourself; if you find you spend more time making pronouncements than asking open-ended questions, you probably need to change your approach. If you have a tendency to interrupt, practice listening without interrupting until your mentee has completed her thoughts. Paraphrase your mentee’s statements. As the relationship develops, ask your mentee for feedback and change what you’re doing. Your mentee may also have a different style from yours, and you may be able to learn as well as teach.
Become a Mentee
To be a teacher, it’s helpful to have been a student. You have a good sense of the techniques your mentor used and what you found helpful. Empathy is a key skill for mentors. If your organization has a formal program that teaches employees how to mentor, take advantage of it. If not, ask someone you admire to help mentor you, with the specific goal of improving your overall mentoring skills or a specific aspect, such as your listening skills.
Beth Greenwood is an RN and has been a writer since 2010. She specializes in medical and health topics, as well as career articles about health care professions. Greenwood holds an Associate of Science in nursing from Shasta College.
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