The role of a mentor stretches and expands according to the needs of the mentee and the expectations of the relationship. While a mentor is described in the dictionary as “an experienced and trusted adviser”, many who have undertaken the role know that this isn’t an all-encompassing definition.
This has perhaps never been more true than during a crisis. Suddenly, the nature of the mentor/mentee relationship shifts and adapts to the new circumstances, and psychological wellbeing becomes a more important player during your conversations.
We spoke to Stacy Moore, a chartered psychologist at Inner Circles Ltd, who sees the lockdown as a stress-inducing period which mentors need to be aware of.
Don't press pause
“Just because the lockdown has happened doesn’t mean that your own identity completely shifts,” says Stacy. “If you do put everything on hold, that presupposes that everything will change, which is not very helpful for your mental wellbeing.
“It’s important to try and keep that consistency because, while the world is changing exponentially, our brains are trying to look for safety. And a mentor can really help with that.”
So, instead of pausing your professional development or goals, see how you can adapt your plans so you can still make progress while in lockdown. It may be challenging, and you may not be moving forward as quickly as you like, but having this progress will be a positive way to keep your mind active and your mindset positive.
Revisit key skills
While all mentors must have a strong foundation of skills in order to qualify them for the position, it’s important now to revisit these and find your own personal way of adapting them to the current circumstance - if they even need to be adapted at all.
The key skills include active listening, open questioning, suspending personal judgement or prejudice, the ability to give feedback, and the ability to offer insight into the challenges facing the mentee by using their empathy skills. For example: even if you have not experienced mental health issues in your life but you know your mentee is struggling, read around the topic to find appropriate resources and insight which could help them get through the challenge.
“First and foremost, this person is a human being before they’re an employee,” says Stacy. “Check in with their emotional wellness before you then start talking about how COVID-19 has changed the business and relationship dynamics.”
Take the initiative
While you don’t want to assume that your mentee is struggling and won’t want to cause offence by presuming so, it’s important that you make sure the mentee is aware that your help is there should they wish to pursue it. Open that conversation so it remains on the table for the mentee to pick up. You shouldn’t force them to open up or pry into details of their life they’re unwilling to share, but you should reassure them of your support and of your open ear.
“It’s emotionally and psychologically irresponsible to not notice what’s going on,” says Stacy. “I think it's really important for the offer to be made, not for the responsibility to be with the mentee. If the mentor offers it, it normalises that there's an expectation that something is going to be different, and it normalises that this offer is expected from mentors.”
Count to ten
“Try adapting - or adopting - rating scales during your conversations,” says Stacy. “Using numbers makes it easier to have conversations in areas that they might not have spoken about before. So rather than us having to kind of find the language to say you’re feeling a bit low, we can use rating scales to articulate it. This makes it a solution-focused question. However, rather than immediately asking how you’re going to move up the scale, ask them how they’re maintaining that current number. Remind them that they’re already doing things to keep them at that number instead of sliding lower.”
Stacy's top tips
- Let the mentee choose the most convenient time for them.
- Don’t make them go on video. “Give that power dynamic to the mentee and ask them if they want to make a video call a phone call?”
- Don’t get straight into business. “Let's not talk about work for the first four or five minutes of the conversation. Try asking: what's this situation meaning for your family? How are things shifted for you? How are you?”
- But don’t push them into opening up. “Mentees are not under any obligation to divulge information; they may be private people and not want that to be discussed in the workplace or in this professional relationship.”
For more Covid-19 related content, visit our Leading Through Uncertainty hub.
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