The three best ways for mentors to build trust… and you might not like it!
Trust between mentor and mentee is said to be the cornerstone of an effective mentoring relationship. It can take time and sometimes a little effort to build trust and rapport, but it’s worth the trouble.
The very nature of the relationship puts the mentor in a higher power position than the mentee, so whilst both members of the dyad are responsible for building a trusting relationship, it is incumbent on the mentor to work just that little bit harder.
So, what can mentors do to build trust quickly?
Behaviours of Trusted
Stephen Covey claims to have identified 13 common behaviours of trusted leaders:
- Talk Straight
- Demonstrate Respect
- Create Transparency
- Right Wrongs
- Show Loyalty
- Deliver Results
- Get Better
- Confront Reality
- Clarify Expectation
- Practice Accountability
- Listen First
- Keep Commitments
- Extend Trust 
One could easily substitute the word ‘mentor’ for ‘leader’. Many of the behaviours on this list are behaviours we would expect of a masterful mentor. But which are the critical ones, and are there particular behaviours that mentors must display to foster trust with their mentees?
Given how important trust in mentoring seems to be, there are surprisingly few studies that examine exactly what mentors do to build trust. One qualitative study found that the trust mentees feel for their mentors is determined by the professional competence of the mentor, their consistency, their ability to communicate, their interest, and their readiness to share control. In a further study, mentees reported that there were attributes and behaviours on the part of their mentors that helped in building trust and respect. In interviews they spoke about “being listened to” and “knowing the conversation was confidential” which helped them be honest and open. They also mentioned “not feeling judged”. 
Training Mentors to Build Trust
In mentor training at Art of Mentoring, we focus on three key mentor behaviours to build trust. Sometimes, we get resistance, because they are not easy to do.
- First, listen. Novice mentors need to speak less and listen more. When a mentee knows their mentor is there to just listen, and they feel fully “heard’, then something magical opens up in the relationship. Many experienced managers find it hard to stop talking long enough to listen very intently, because they believe their role as mentor is to give advice and talk about themselves.
- Keep your promises. The most important promise is to do with confidentiality. When a mentee trusts that what they share will never become dinner table conversation for the mentor, they can open themselves up and become vulnerable – which is a window to their learning.
- Don’t just be open, be vulnerable. Mentors that are open about their mistakes, their weaknesses, their failures and foibles, immediately knock themselves off the pedestal and make themselves more approachable.
As a leader and mentor, it can be hard to be vulnerable. I had a recent experience of this in my own company, when I felt compelled to apologise to team members that we had not managed them well and allowed their high stakes project to be derailed. I did not want them to feel responsible for an outcome that was only partially of their making.
The result was somewhat surprising.
It turned what could have been a major breach of trust, into the very opposite. We all walked away, I believe, with a stronger connection and loyalty to one another. I learned a powerful lesson that day – that the risk of vulnerability and admitting flaws, poor decisions and faulty judgement – was worth the relationship outcome. Our people want us to be human, to have failings and to be real at work (see my recent blog, How to be human at work). I believe it is the same with mentoring relationships.
So, my challenge to you as mentors, is to listen much more, be vulnerable and keep your promises.
Build trust. I promise you won’t regret it.
Find out more about improving your mentoring skills. We can expertly guide you in developing skill sets as both a mentor and mentee, without having to leave your desk.
© 2019 Melissa Richardson, Co-founder and Managing Director of Art of Mentoring
 https://www.linkageanz.com.au/uploads/pdf/Stephen_Covey_How_the_Best_Leaders_Build_Trust.pdf; downloaded 30 April 2019
 Erdem, F.and Aytemur, J.O. (2008) Mentoring:A Relationship Based on Trust: Qualitative Research; Public Personnel Management Volume 37 No. 1
 Evans, C. Trust and connection in formal, virtual mentoring; International Journal of Evidence Based Coaching and Mentoring 2018, Special Issue 12