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Mentoring: The Head Scratchers As Capacity Builders

One of the most interesting tips I received from a mentor, was a real head scratcher. “Look”, she said to me, “When you want to say something, you open your mouth and then think of what you want to say. It gives people the impression that you don’t know what you are talking about. Think about how you appear to others when you do this and try to manage it.”

So what is mentoring?

Mentoring involves primarily listening with empathy, sharing experience (usually mutually), professional friendship, developing insight through reflection, being a sounding board, encouraging. – David Clutterbuck

Mentoring is different from teaching and coaching. Mentoring is much broader. It can provide coaching on specific tasks, teach new processes and provide counselling toward self-awareness, but it is primarily about building capacity. It is not about getting someone to be like you, rather it is about enabling them to discover their best self and their own potential. What about this interaction demonstrates true mentorship?

With this comment, my mentor showed that mentoring is not just about saying nice things, it is also about building a relationship where you can comfortably challenge someone about their behaviour and assumptions. She observed and reflected on my communications and encouraged me to do the same. From experience, she knew that if you are not quick to provide your comments and appear confident, the eye rolling begins. Your ideas are dismissed as non- starters! Without going into a long-winded explanation, she brought me to understand what I needed to do and why.

Did this mentoring make a difference for me?

Yes for sure and no, not always. I still struggle with the open-mouth-and-then-think problem. But now, rather than free-wheeling my communications, I make sure to have some prepared notes before a meeting starts. During the meeting, I will also jot down things I might want to say. It gives my head a quick start and enables me to get over that horrible pause before my thoughts come together. As I am speaking, not only do I try to maintain flow, but I also make sure to see or feel the reactions of my audience and adjust.

Did mentoring help me to move forward toward my potential?

What my mentor did for me was to challenge me to be a better communicator. I certainly feel more confident and get my point across. I have noticed that people listen to what I have to say and that I am able to influence some decisions. Am I a great communicator? That is something for others to say.

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