Attentive listening is an essential, but often overlooked skill required for any mentor. Listening is something we do everyday, all the time without thinking about it. However, listening as a mentor means we are doing more than letting words enter our ears… we are engaging, absorbing and truly hearing what our mentee is saying. Learning how to listen well will strengthen your relational bond with your mentee. Without this skill, your mentee will feel unseen, which could lead to feeling you are trustworthy.
How to Improve Active Listening:
1. Be Present
Be present. It can be difficult to put aside your own life and issues, but your focus should be on your mentee and what is going on with them. Be aware of your own buoyancy levels and whether you are feeling emotionally drained or having trouble focusing. Take a breath and bring the focus back to the moment and your mentee.
2. Keep the Focus on Your Mentee
Keep the focus on your mentee. Part of human nature is the desire to share our lives with the people around us, and a common fault of mentors is talking too much, telling too many stories or offering too much advice. Even the best listeners can get carried away by what they are saying. So, be attentive to how much you speak and the reason you are speaking; is what you are saying helpful? If not, turn the conversation back to the mentee.
3. Pay Attention to What Isn’t Said
Pay attention to what isn’t said. Watch body language and the intonations of your mentee’s voice. What are they communicating indirectly? Maybe they are fidgeting, or unusually defensive. Maybe they keep bringing something up over and over. These can all be indicators of what is going on beneath the surface and can lead you to the right questions to ask.
4. Reframe What Your Mentee Says
Reframe what your mentee says. To make sure you understand exactly what your mentee is saying, repeat the idea back to them with different words and ask if this is what they meant. This can save you both from miscommunication and help your mentee feel they are truly heard.
5. Don’t Make Assumptions
Don’t make assumptions. Mentors are usually insightful people, but don’t let your assumptions go too far. You may assume your mentee is being defensive when they are just tired, or that they are ignoring red flags intentionally instead of subconsciously. It’s always better to ask questions to make sure.
6. Ask Thoughtful Questions
Ask thoughtful questions. Nothing shows that you are listening attentively better than a thoughtful question. Asking something pertinent that pushes the conversation forward, shows that you are carefully following what they are saying, and that you are engaged with their situation.
I am listening and engaging with my mentee throughout our sessions:
Very true of me True Somewhat True Occasionally untrue Untrue Very untrue of me
- Am I being truly present with my mentee? Are they being truly present with me?
- How much am I speaking during a session compared to how often I’m listening?
- Is what I’m saying during a session providing help to my mentee?
- What have I learned about my mentee through what they don’t say?
- Who can I talk to about my listening habits? Who will provide honest feedback?
What happens next?
If you are looking to grow your mentoring skills, check out these resources:
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