Tony taught Business and Aeronautics courses for eight years; he holds a Master's degree in Management and is completing a PhD in Organizational Psychology
The Mentoring Relationship
Mentorship is a special relationship where someone with a great deal of experience helps to guide someone who is rather new, in an attempt to help them to reach their potential and not have to learn the hard way. There are potential benefits for the mentee, who gains a great deal of knowledge and the equivalent of years of experience in a very short time. The mentor also gets to see the business from a brand new perspective and learn how some of the things that worked in the past may have new solutions in our ever-changing world. In this lesson we will follow Mary, an experienced executive with Wazoo Kazoo, Inc., and Matt, a newly hired management trainee.
The term empathy is used to describe the ability to put yourself in another person's position and understand the situation from his or her point of view. We will use the term communication empathy to describe the desire to actively listen to the other person while also understanding his or her role within the situation.
Conversations in the mentoring relationship often deal with solving problems. Mentors want to teach mentees how to use a particular set of problem-solving skills and guide them through it without actually doing it for them. Let's look at a sample situation that may help to better understand these concepts.
One of the supervisors in Matt's department came to him and told him about a problem between two of the workers who are always arguing and cannot seem to get much work done. Matt knows that he must deal with this situation right away, but there are many ways to deal with it, and he does not want to make a mistake early on in his management program. So he schedules a lunchtime meeting with Mary to discuss the issue.
Matt wants to have a heightened awareness of both himself as well as Mary so that the problem can be resolved quickly and in a way that he is comfortable doing. He knows that Mary is well known to be good with helping people solve problems so he is hoping to get some good advice. Matt takes Mary's position into account and spends some time before their meeting trying to think of some possible ways to deal with the issue.
Mary knows the problem of dealing with arguing co-workers all too well, and she knows how she would deal with it. However, she needs to be able to give solid advice that will help Matt but also allow him to come up with potential solutions on his own.
In this situation each party is displaying a heightened awareness of both self and their partner in both the communication and problem-solving processes. They are using communication empathy to determine what is best for themselves but also for the other person.
Listening for Potential
Listening for potential is a form of active listening where the person who is approached with a problem focuses on a way to help find a solution as opposed to the problem itself. Active listening is when the listener takes an active role to hear and also understand, attach meaning, remember, and develop an appropriate response. Listening for potential takes active listening a step further, since Mary must listen to Matt and decide whether or not he is capable of solving the problem on his own.
The goal of listening for potential is to help the other person to go through the mindset that is needed to solve the problem themselves. The main benefit is that it develops a sense of confidence and helps them to hear their own inner wisdom instead of being afraid.
It is now lunchtime and Matt meets with his mentor, Mary. At the meeting Mary uses the technique of listening for potential while Matt describes the problem. The first thing Mary notices is that Matt is able to understand what the problem truly is and not just identify a symptom of a bigger problem. This lets Mary know that Matt is on track to being able to solve the problem himself. She asks him if he has given any thought to any possible solutions.
Matt now can go through a few things that he thought about that could help solve the arguments between the workers. He thought he could try to sit down with both of them to mediate the issue itself. He could also change one or both of their schedules so that they do not work at the same time. Another option would be to transfer or fire one or both of them if they cannot work out their differences themselves.
Mary takes time to share some of her past experiences. She is able to tell Matt what happened in those instances and then let him reflect on them, knowing what is likely to occur in each situation. Matt feels a lot better after talking with Mary and hearing about her professional experiences. He now feels that he has the information and confidence to make his decision and carry it out with the employees. Mary is confident that Matt will make a decision on his own and can be more confident about doing so in the future.
Communication in the forms of empathy, active listening, and listening for potential are all tools used in the mentoring relationship to help build confidence and a mutual understanding between the mentor and mentee.
Empathy is understanding a situation from another person's point of view. Communication empathy is when you take the other person's role and situation into account during the conversation to better understand their goal and meaning. Active listening is the process of hearing, attaching meaning, understanding, remembering, and responding appropriately. Listening for potential focuses on solving the problem and determining whether or not the person has the inner wisdom to solve the issues on their own. Listening for potential, when used correctly, can build confidence and problem-solving ability in others.
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