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How to help your mentee open up

Written by
Petr Rozkošný
Published on
April 4, 2024

Working with a mentee can sometimes go sideways. Instead of working on the task we slip and talk about other issues not related to the contract or mentee’s needs. Unfortunately, a mentor is to blame. Being a mentor also means to keep an eye on the journey of our mentees. Distractions come along the way. Some of the root causes for this could be lack of motivation, lack of focus, lack of discipline. Mentors should be a beacon and provide their mentees with all of this. One way to keep track and dig deep into the journey is to help your mentee open up. 

Opening up is beneficial in 3 ways. First, it builds trust to talk deeply and freely about all the circumstances, experiences, worries and fears of the topic, knowing we are not judged, or lost. The second benefit goes beyond and brings confidence. Most of the time we end up being unaware of what is really going on. Going deeper in our thoughts and emotions with someone who empathetically leads our way, embracing the presence of fear gives boost to our courage and builds confidence of going back and forth with our sessions. Last but not least, the third aspect is the will. Connecting trust and confidence we light up the will in ourselves to do more, change our habits, and stretch our comfort zone. And this goes both ways to our mentee and also to us as mentors. 

Here are 8 techniques how to help your mentee open up:

1. Open-ended questions

The base technique in coaching and therapy sessions. Open-ended questions help to go beyond the simple YES/NO answer. It lets us think about the answer and bring broaded inputs in what we think about the question. 80 % of our questions should be open-ended. Instead of „Did you complete the task we agreed on during our last session?“ we go and push the mentee to talk more about it with „How was the task we agreed during our last session?“ It eliminates the option to cover up, evade, and more information. Close-ended questions can be used. However, such questions are suitable for confirmation purposes or clarifications. We can use them at times like „So, did I get it right as you said…?“, or „Based on what has been said, you will do …. On this specific day …“.

2. No WHYs

Such questions trigger the fear of being judged or tested. Plus, due to our school systems and parenthood, we might be pushed by the feeling something was done as good or bad. There is rarely a curiosity behind it. To help your mentee open up, switch to Who-Where-What-Which-When questions. Such clauses evaluate deeply into the topic and bring specific answers to the table, which you can use to go even further during your sessions. 

3. Don't judge or assume

Although you are experts in your field with a rich experience and knowledge that can help your mentee to grow, you are never wearing their shoes 100 %. You never understand all the circumstances, feelings, and background of your mentee. Even though most of them might be similar to any of your experiences, you are not them. Therefore, try to avoid jumping into conclusions of what your mentee should do. Your mentee will see that you are the mentor they paid for with not only the knowledge, but also leadership to lead them to their desired destination. 

4. Summarize & paraphrase

From time to time, it is wise to summarize and paraphrase what has been told. You can go like „Just to be clear of what has been said, let me summarize it a bit.“ Your mentee will get proof that you are actively listening and supporting them. Also, use exact words your mentees say or paraphrase their metaphors with more details. You can use the technique 3:1, going with 3 questions and 1 summary. 

5. Give time & space

First of all, knowing your mentee and the way they work, thinking and reacting is essential. Some need more time to answer, some will answer steadily and broadly. For all, give them time to think and talk through their thoughts. One of the strongest techniques here is the power of silence. Ask a question and let it be. Wait for your mentee to answer, even if it is: „what do you mean?“ Silence triggers the urge to answer and tell something. If your mentee goes with „I don’t know“, either remain silent or tell them to think of it as if they would know. It is their time to assess their needs, jumping in and rushing forward will only tremor the trust you have with your mentee.

6. Feedback & approval

Work with feedback on both sides. Ask for feedback on your sessions and your methodology, and provide feedback for your mentees on their journey. This is essential to gain trust and opening up as your mentees will clearly see that you care about their development and success. Also, most of us dislike to be given advice, especially if  it’s unwanted. Ask for approval to bring your ideas to the table. Again, your mentee might take it as a sign of professionality.

7. Gratitude & humor

Their practice is hard enough. Make it fun but always keep track of the progress. Humor helps to make the process a bit easier. Plus, gratitude supports the role of trust in your relationship. We all need praise and support, having each others’ backs. Decisions and changes are difficult enough, we all need that safety net. You can say: „Thank you for your active approach towards our brainstorming today, it was both effective and pleasant to be involved in your decision making process.“ 

8. Trust

It is not only the result of helping your mentee open up, but as a mentor, trust your mentee in their process. Know they are experts on their own lives, have all answers within them, and if not, they have a positive approach in their decisions. And, they are responsible for their choices, knowing the change is inevitable for growth. Trusting your mentee will mirror it right back in their trust as their mentors. 

Knowing how to help your mentee open up is essential for a successful mentoring journey. Try some of these tips and check the results. Also, this develops mentoring skills as such, transforming us into more empathetic, systematic mentors and leaders. 

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