Important Skills for a Successful Mentoring Relationship

Study Confirms Communication Competence Critical to Mentoring Success

Don’t you just love being proven right?

It was with a slight inner gloat that I read a recent mentoring study from York University in Canada, which found that communication competence on the part of both the mentor and the mentee was the one single skill most needed for a successful partnership.

I could hear myself thinking, “This is what I’ve been saying all along” as I read through the study report in detail.  At Art of Mentoring, our mentor and mentee training has always focused on the art of communication, and so often the positive feedback that we get from mentoring program participants relates to their improved listening and communications skills.

This confirmation of the importance of communication was music to my ears.

About the study

The study in question was in-depth, taking place between 2013 and 2015 and involving 50 mentors and 50 mentees, each undertaking lengthy, confidential interviews with the researcher.

The participants were involved in a formal mentoring program run by the Toronto Region Immigrant Employment Council designed to assist newer migrants in their career development.

The success factor

The factor that had the highest correlation with partnership success was “open and authentic communication”. This might seem so obvious, since we are talking about a relationship between two people.  But too often we see associations and businesses launch into a mentoring program without adequately ensuring the skills and tools for authentic communication are in place.

One of the most critical of these skills is “active listening”. Here again the study confirmed that the art of listening was critical to authentic communication. In fact, inadequate listening skills were the most common mentoring communication barrier.

Busy professionals have an understandable weakness when it comes to listening.  After all, they have a lot of balls in the air and listening requires time and attention they sorely lack.

Add to that the natural human inclination to love the sound of our own stories.  Mentors in particular, can be quick to share their own knowledge and experiences, without taking the time to understand their mentee’s story and needs.

What is active listening?

“Active listening” is where the listener makes a conscious effort not just to hear the words being spoken, but tries to understand the complete message being sent.  This is a skill that can be taught and should be part of any mentor/mentee training.  As it turns out, it is also a critical link to the other two characteristics required for a successful mentoring relationship.

Emotional Presence

The study found that a strong “emotional presence” from both partners was required for partnership success, particularly when conversations ventured into sensitive areas. Regardless of the overarching purpose of your mentoring program, to be successful mentors and mentees must be able to deal with personal and sometimes emotional issues.

Exchange Relationship

The final characteristic the study identified was an “exchange relationship”. For a mentoring partnership to be truly successful, the study suggests that mentors and mentees must learn from each other.  A two-way street of knowledge exchange not only ensures that both parties gain from the experience, it creates a stronger, more rewarding relationship.

Every finding in this research supports what we have long observed at Art of Mentoring.  I am writing this blog not to say, “I told you so”, but to reinforce with all our readers the critical importance of developing communication skills for a successful mentoring program.

Ensure that you have strong communication training tools in place before you launch into a formal mentoring program.  Not only will your program be more successful, the participants will have gained invaluable life and career skills.

If you want to read about successful mentoring programs, here is our Case Study with our client Australian Veterinary Association.

© 2017 Melissa Richardson

communication important for successful relationship


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