BEING A MENTOR/MENTEE, SOME THOUGHTS

{ outfit is vintage but similar: navy velvet blazer, striped sweater, jeans, cap toe pumps }

I have spent the last couple years formally mentoring graduate interns as they complete their Master degree in Social Work, the same degree I earned before my career as a mental health therapist. However, the older I get and the more I delve deeper into my practice of Social Work, psychotherapy and blogging, the more comfortable I become being in the position of learner. I used to think that with time and experience comes expertise, but now after much time and much experience I don't think I would ever identify myself as an expert. Even in the topics that interest me most, that I am most familiar with, I will always be in practice and thus, will continue to remain open, curious, humbled by the fact that no amount of experience will ever make me an expert. And it's with this mindset that I have truly evolved in my personal experience providing feedback and support to others. Here are a few thoughts from my experiences of being both mentor and mentee, hopefully they serve some relevance for you too. 

Openess to feedbackI think this is one of the most important things I have found in terms of both being a mentor and being mentored. We often think of leaders as having most of the answers, making most of the decisions and taking the primary role in giving constructive feedback. But I think encouraging these things to be a bit more of mutual process is extremely beneficial for everyone. Even when I feel very strongly about a particular decision, I always try my best to get an idea of how the person I am mentoring feels about it and why. Even if it's dealing with something of the upmost importance, a clear agency policy or straight risk averse, I still encourage those I mentor to walk me through the ideas or solutions they have because it's an opportunity to learn for us both. It's helpful for a mentee to actually think through a problem and demonstrate their reasoning skills to build confidence and show us what they are capable of. It's also helpful to understand what someone knows and how they can continue to grow. I often encourage feedback from those I mentor about my own decisions or comments to demonstrate this point. The key for both parties is learning how to best give and receive feedback and to get comfforbtale doing both respectfully. If you can learn this early on, it's one of the most beneficial skills for any position; intern or CEO. 

Acceptance of each others individualityWhat works for me won't always work for someone else. Of course there are certain elements of any profession where the answer is clear, for example in my profession, managing risk follows a more specific protocol. But in general I believe we can truly benefit from embracing our differences. Aside from basic elements of professionalism and company protocol, we all have varying perspectives on how to solve a problem. It's important to remember that everyone has lived different experiences and that can often be channeled into something positive.  And as a mentor we can support a mentee in navigating how they develop those skills. So encouraging each other to share ideas is always helpful and builds a broader range of opportunities for success. But before you can actually put this into practice, you must first acknowledge the value of listening to another person's opinion. 

Giving more than just answersI noticed this immediately when I started helping others at work complete complicated paperwork that was new to them. I would be very directive about what worked for me and tended to speak mostly from my own experiences. Of course it's helpful to provide feedback based on accumulated knowledge, but it's about more than just answering the question. What has helped me is being clear with others about what the end goal is and allowing a little room for us each to arrive there independently. One way of encouraging this is simply by asking good questions. Doing this has always lead to great conversations between myself and those who have mentored me and vice versa. It demonstrates a willingness to learn, which in any profession is what helps us evolve. 

Leading by example In my practice I do this many ways, mostly by having strong boundaries for even the simplest of things, setting clear expectations and being consistent. Boundaries are extremely important because they essentially dictate the relationship you have with that person from the beginning. For example, if you choose to share about your personal life, that is fine but it's also demonstrating to the other party that it's an okay topic converse about not only with you, but also amongst other professionals. Same goes for expectations you have about deadlines, how to submit work, requesting feedback, and communicating with others. These are important things that need to be clear and consistent for everyone and how we do this ourselves is essentially modeling for others around us. So it's important that if you make a mistake, that you acknowledge it, no matter which position you are in, so that the expectation remains clear. 

General professionalism | This might seem obvious and I truly WISH it was. However, given much of the generational differences and more relaxed nature I suppose of communication in year 2018, we have seriously lost some of our good sense. I hate saying this but I myself have also failed some of these extremely basic rules, so here goes. Spellcheck and proofread your work! I can't believe some of the emails, text messages and documentation I have seen and also written myself. For some reason people think it's okay  to be more causal or just not care enough to review your work. This has got to stop, especially when in a professional setting. Nowadays many people, including myself, use text messaging to communicate with other staff, but even though texting is often informal, it's important to formalize them for professional use. I wish I could say this hasn't happened with the people I have mentored but it has and often leaves me wondering, are you taking this seriously? That is how it comes off when you accidentally text a random sentence, quickly followed by a "sorry, wrong text" (and typically there is no comma, just saying). You might as well send a "you up" text if that doesn't completely freak you out to make a mistake like that. And of course, we all make mistakes but you should really, really be making a conscious effort to not make such mistakes, and if you do, make sure it doesn't happen again! Back to the basics everyone! 

-MGN

Photography by Wini Lao

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