The Case for Mentoring: Communication is Paramount
At the end of our previous post, The Case for Mentoring: Meeting Attorneys Where They Are, we highlighted the importance of keeping an open line of communication between mentor and mentee. This tip bears repeating. Maybe even a little louder, as they say, for the people in the back. In mentoring, as in life, communication is paramount.
Recently, my husband had a work summit where all the managers from across the country met to discuss their work and develop strategic plans for the next year. Before meeting, they were tasked with reading, “If I Understood You, Would I Have This Look on My Face: My Adventures in the Art and Science of Relating and Communicating,” written by Alan Alda.
The main focus of the book is the science of communication, and it makes the case for being an effective communicator in order to enhance our lives. At the summit, the managers participated in several improv and storytelling exercises over the course of several days based on the concepts outlined in the book. This is a company with hundreds of managers and thousands of employees. This isn’t a humanities or sociology focused industry. This isn’t the legal profession where getting your point across is the objective. My husband works in the IT security industry. This illustrates how important and powerful communication is. A large, international company devoted many manhours at an annual summit to teach their managers how to communicate with each other more effectively.
Now, not all of us have the time and resources for a large, multi-day summit on communication, so let’s focus on small ways mentors can ensure communication is kept at the forefront of their mentoring relationship.
Three ways to build a clear line of communication in a mentoring relationship are:
- Take time to develop the mentoring relationship.
- Mentoring is about building a relationship and not about a transaction. A solid mentoring relationship will reap rewards for both mentor and mentee in the long run.
- Keep a steady pace towards achieving the mentee’s goals, both short-term and long-term.
- Rome was not built in a day. Ensure that there are achievable goals in the short-term to create positive feedback and in the long-term to build up the mentee’s skillsets to be an effective attorney.
- Maintain contact with the mentee on a regular basis.
- Consistency is key. Consistency builds mutual trust and respect in the mentoring relationship.
And always remember, a conversation takes two people. Listening is as important as talking.
Human relationships and interactions are centered around communication. Mentor-mentee relationships should be no different. A well-structured mentoring program should account for the importance of communication. The structure should allow for an open, direct, and effective line of communication from management through the mentor to the mentee. At our firm, we work hard to make sure there is a clear line of communication from the partners and other management committees to the mentoring committee and the mentors, who are then able to communicate any issues effectively and appropriately to the mentee. Often, it not what’s being said but how it’s being said that makes the difference. A structure focused on communication helps create the bridge that hopefully closes the gap between the expectations of the firm and the associate’s lived experiences and goals.
Mentoring programs are a way to create a mutually beneficial arrangement, not a system of mandates being pushed from the top down. Effective communication allows us to move forward together.