Mentoring Basics: Part 5 (series finale)

Throughout this series we have covered several basics of mentoring from the mentor’s perspective. Everything from creating some structure in your mentorships, to assessing a potential mentee, to some key do’s and don’ts.

This is the final post in the series on Mentoring Basicsand we are going to spend a little time talking about how to handle tough conversations.

Before we dive in to how to handle these types of tough conversations, I want to make sure we cover why you need to deal with these types of conversations in the first place. As a mentor, you have accepted a position of guidance and leadership over another. You have agreed to provide input and experiences that will help shape and grow them. You are tasked with being a good steward of the trust given to you by your mentee and you must be honest and objective in diligently executing your role.

Being a mentor is a big deal!  All this responsibility should sound pretty heavy.  It’s almost like there should be an official oath, a swearing in, or at least a cool handshake that has to be accomplished before you become a mentor.

And while the handshake would probably be fun, the point is that your role is important and should be taken seriously. That means you have to take the good with the bad. While there are plenty of good times in developing others, there are also plenty of tough conversations to be had. And a good mentor won’t shy away from these tough issues. Rather, they find a way to deliver the message that needs to be heard in an appropriate manner in the best interest of the mentee.

So what are tough conversations?

I find that these are talks with your mentee on topics that may be difficult to deliver. Based upon your own experience and personal style, some topics may be more difficult for you than others. These topics can revolve around all sorts of things (e.g., performance, attitude, style, grooming, etc.). One way to know that a topic may be particularly difficult for you is if you have that little voice in your head saying, “Oh man, this isn’t going to be fun.” Or if you have an immediate reaction to walk away rather than deliver the message. Or if you start seeking out ways for you not to have to deliver it. But if you don’t deliver it, who will?

I’ve been here several times before. And its not always easy. Sometimes its something that can be embarrassing for both you and the mentee, like telling them that their personal hygiene needs improvement. Or sometimes it may be something confrontational, like telling them they are wrong when they strongly believe they are right.  Or perhaps they are close to or have violated an ethical or morale principle.

As I think through my mentoring experiences, I find that these center around a few general themes.

  • Delusions of grandeur – when someone thinks they are greater than they are and/or are better at something than they really are.
  • Negativity or negative traits – when someone exhibits negativity in the workplace and/or negative traits (e.g., lying, gossiping, bad attitude).
  • Poor performance or failure to complete work – when someone delivers sub-standard performance or doesn’t meet expectations.
  • Highly personal issues – when there are highly personal, sensitive or potentially embarassing issues, including personal life issues that affect the work place.
  • Ending the mentoring relationship – when you need to end the mentoring relationship ahead of schedule.
These are just a few themes that I’ve encountered and I am sure there are many more.
While the listed themes cover a wide variety of issues, the approach to handling these as a mentor are very similar. Here are five suggestions on how to handle the conversation that you can add to your leader’s locker.
  1. Be prepared. Make sure you know your facts before you engage in a tough conversation. This may mean that you need to fact seek and fact check before you have this conversation.
  2. Be private. Before you have a tough conversation, make sure you are out of earshot of others. Protect your mentee as appropriate from any additional embarassment.
  3. Be honest. One thing that should always set you apart as a mentor (which we have discussed in other posts) is honesty. You of all people should provide an honest assessment of the situation. While being honest can sting some times, if done properly in the right spirit you may do more for someone’s development than ever before.
  4. Be clear. When having a tough conversation it is very important to be concise and clear about what you are saying. Don’t ‘beat around the bush’. Get straight to the point. Talking around the situation only creates greater confusion.
  5. Be supportive. Tough conversations are just that. They can be embarassing. They can make someone feel inferior or badly. So, unless it’s your goal to destroy someone’s ego or self-confidence, you should find a way to deliver in a supportive and uplifting manner. Watch your tone. Be mindful of the words you use. Tell a story about a time when you did something similar and learned from it. There are things you can do to soften the blow if the situation calls for it.

Again, there are many other approaches that you can take in handling tough conversations, but these are just a few that you can add to your locker.

I hope you have enjoyed this series and if you’ve taken anything away it should be that there are many ways to approach mentoring. You need to figure out the approach that works best for you and then build upon it as you gain more and more experience.

Hopefully, the tools provided in these 7 posts on Mentoring Basics will serve you well on your mentoring journey. If you have other thoughts, please feel free to post comments and share with the broader audience or you can email me directly and I will find a way to incorporate.

Again, I hope you have enjoyed this series. If you have thoughts on other series or topics you would like to explore, drop me a line.  Don’t forget to ‘like’ The Leaders Locker on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Happy Mentoring!



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