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The importance of building and maintaining trust in the mentoring relationship

Written by
Kristina Duffkova
Published on
May 14, 2024

The Role of Trust

In the realm of mentorship, trust serves as the invisible yet indispensable thread that binds mentors and mentees together on their journey of growth and development. It is the foundation upon which fruitful relationships are constructed, enabling open dialogue, vulnerability, and mutual support. In this article, I'd like to explore the intricate dynamics of trust within mentoring sessions, illuminating its significance in fostering authentic connections and facilitating meaningful learning experiences. I'll navigate you through the nuances of trust-building in mentorship, uncovering essential strategies and insights to cultivate trust and empower both mentors and mentees to thrive in their collaborative pursuit of personal and professional excellence.

As you may have heard the saying: "Trust is hard to earn, but so easy to lose."...It’s true. Without trust there is only a very shallow relationship which actually cannot survive anything tougher. You cannot go deeper with your mentee and really help them appropriately. You may not even tell them your personal stories if you feel like they could share it anywhere. If there is trust, there is also a relaxed atmosphere and learning can begin. Both sides can share what they want and need. Therefore, it’s important from the beginning to focus on small details and build the connection and trust step by step.

Building Trust

The mentoring process is a very special process. You need to create this safe place as soon as possible. 

So here are a few tips to start: 

  • Turn off distractions/notifications, be on time, ensure a stable internet connection, have your notes ready, and really listen. 
  • Say at the beginning:"What are we going to talk about? What you share with me is here to stay unless you tell me otherwise. Feel free to disagree with me or stop me at anytime and tell me, 'This is not an issue for me.'
  • Frequently ask: "What do you think? Are we heading in a good direction? Am I helping you? Is the topic clearer? Do you want to tell me more?" 
  • Watch their body language
  • Be vulnerable: share your own story. You are not perfect and you didn't know everything, also made some mistakes, had to evolve. 
  • To be successful, you have to know where you are heading. They have to feel they can rely on you, that you want the best for them

With this in mind, you can create a trustworthy relationship very quickly. But definitely, you have to be consistent; all these tips apply for the whole mentoring journey. You are the manager of the process; you set the rules.

Open Communication

Even after the basic rules are set, then you can openly communicate. Where the most negative experience with the mentor is that the mentor doesn’t listen actively. What does it mean? Active listening isn’t an easy skill at the beginning, but you can definitely learn it. You listen to the whole expression of the mentee. Not only what is being said, but also what’s not being said. What is the body language, the tone of their voice, why they are telling the story. What is their mindset, their outlook on the situation, where are the limits in their head. And after that, you can share your story that can inspire them, that is possible. You can share with them some tips and maybe explain that to achieve such a goal their attitude needs to change. With all of this, the mentee can feel understood, seen, and taken care of, which definitely helps with creating a deeper bond between you two.

Questions that enhance trust

What is also important is to create a non-judgmental space and put aside quick resolutions to problems. As a mentor, you never know the whole story of your mentee; you don’t know why they behave in such and such a way, why they are not successful with their goals yet. So instead of making inappropriate comments, it’s better to ask questions. 

  • Can you tell me about your background and experiences that led you to where you are today?
  • Is there anything from your past experiences that you'd like to share, which may impact our mentoring relationship?
  • How can I best support you in leveraging your strengths and addressing areas for growth?
  • How have you dealt with setbacks or failures in the past, and what did you learn from those experiences? 
  • How can we proactively address potential obstacles together? 
  • What support or resources do you need from me to stay motivated and on track?

With these questions, you can enhance trust. But don’t expect to hear the deepest thoughts from your mentee at the beginning. Your relationship is constantly evolving.

Authenticity and professionalism

What also helps is to maintain authenticity throughout the whole process. Present yourself as an expert in your area, but also show your journey to your expertise. Tell them about your start and maybe that your journey had some setbacks in your mindset or you failed many times before you were successful. Now with all of your expertise, you can give them some shortcuts.

Setting Expectations, Feedback and Accountability

In mentor/ mentee relationships, the biggest disappointments lie in the unmet expectations. Expectations of both of you need to be realistic, goals should be doable in 6 months, otherwise communicated. You as a mentor should set expectations by announcing the topic for the session, timing of session cancellations, and also consequences of not doing the tasks. If not respected, the rules you can use these kinds of questions: 

  • How would you like to receive feedback and support from me as your mentor? 
  • Are there any communication or feedback styles that you're particularly sensitive to or uncomfortable with?

It's really important to communicate your concerns as soon as possible to avoid continuing this behavior. With your action, you show the mentee that you want the best for them and that they take the most out of the mentoring journey.

Conclusion

As a mentor, you can ask for feedback at the end of the session to be sure that the shared information was really valuable.

  • How would you rate the session? 
  • What is the most memorable thing you've learnt today?
  • Is this approach ok for you?
  • Would you like to change something?

Trust is the alpha and omega of any relationship. So please don’t underestimate it. Some actions you can’t turn back!

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