Mentoring “Rock Stars” – Building a toolbox of strong communication skills
Communication, in all its forms, is something that we can often take for granted. Study after study has shown that a breakdown in communication can cause conflict and closed thinking.
When building a strong mentoring relationship, clear communication becomes vital. How many times have we been misunderstood when we thought we were clear to the meaning? “…Stand over there, get me the big wrench, Be careful”….
What about when we are listening to our navigator telling us to turn right at the light and we drive straight through? The navigator is saying, “What gives… I just told you to turn right” But you were thinking, “I thought you meant the next light!”
Our brains work many times faster than the fastest spoken words. When we are listening to someone speak we can often finish their sentences in our head or jump forward and assume that we know what they were going to say before they have even got the words out of their mouth.
Now if you can imagine a young mind, one that is used to a constant stream of information through a variety of multimedia channels, a young mind fresh and full of curiosity, or a young mind distracted by all the bright shiny lights, we have the recipe for misunderstanding. Now imagine this young vital mind listening to directions, a lecture or a slow explanation-one that is methodically delivered. How does this young mind process information? The content can be quickly lost due to the speed, tone, and type of delivery.
By changing how we deliver information to new and young workers we can change the results of their understanding and comprehension. Engage their minds and you will engage them. Bore them and the results will be just as boring. “I have to tell him over and over again, kids nowadays…”
You may have the best way to explain a new procedure. You may have the newest and fastest way to improve the process; however without clear communication skills your mentee may just be hearing “whaa whaa whaa” and your valuable lesson may be lost.
I have often mentored the “Rock Stars”. They are the people that ask all the questions, seem to pay the most attention and say all the right things. They usually are easy to mentor. I would often then be surprised when they left the job prematurely, made big mistakes or blew out. The supervisors would sit around saying things like “Crazy, I never saw that coming” “Who would have known?”
We didn’t always ask the right questions, and when we did, we didn’t listen to the right answers.
Conversely, I would have other mentees, quiet and seemingly not as well put together, which, I was sure, would never enjoy much level of success. When these mentees succeeded and excelled I was often pleasantly surprised. I think my error in judgment was partly due to making the assumption that the rock stars always “got it”. I may have not have spent enough time giving them the support they needed or asking the questions that challenged them to identify key growth opportunities. We just assumed that they understood. The less capable workers were given more attention- after all they seemed to need it.
When we get the timing right and when the words and actions align, we can see huge successes. It usually comes back to clear communication.
- Avoid being “right”. Assume you do not know the answer. Question from a position of curiosity and learning.
- Ask questions that will lead to the response of “That’s a good question!”Inspire your mentees to challenge themselves through the process of question and answer.
- Avoid vague and ambiguous statements. Notice how many times you use: “good enough”, “its fine”, “good job”, “nice”, “well done” and “hard work”. Statements that may seem clear to you may confuse your mentee and compromise communication.
- Remain patient. We all process at different speeds and rates. Take the time to listen and give your mentees time to process the information.
I worked once with this young Rock star. I knew she had left her previous job after a short time so I asked her what she hoped to get from her new position. I asked what she wanted to learn and what skills she wanted to acquire. I also asked her where the skills would apply in her life and where she saw her future. I was curious to see what her real motivation was now that she was hired and working.
It turned out that the job was just a money stream even though she had said she was “interested” in the industry. After our conversations over the next months we identified that there were many aspects of the job that were suiting her needs (flexibility, mechanical skills, trade knowledge, social contacts, community value). We continuously revisited the areas of interest to her and kept building her capacity. She went from being a route worker to a leader and ended up staying in the industry for many years. The money stream job became a career.
So after many years of mentoring I remind myself to be clear with communication and not take a nod of the head to mean understanding. I continue to give generously to all the mentees equally, including the Rock Stars. I ask questions because I am genuinely interested in my mentees. I can see their potential and I want all my mentees not only to be the rock stars of today but also of tomorrow.