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by Cathy Vandewater | January 25, 2011


According to The National Mentoring Month Committee (celebrating its 10th anniversary) is official "Thank Your Mentor Day."

While the committee has a number of suggestions for honoring the day, such as sending a note to your mentor, donating to a mentoring program, or becoming a mentor yourself, we think "Thank Your Mentor Day" should also be seen as an opportunity to reflect on the state of your mentoring relationships, past or present, and how you might improve on your part in them.

In The Mentee's Guide, author Lois Zachary focuses on how to be the best mentee you can, with an emphasis on respect and effective communication. The extra effort on your end shows appreciation to your mentor, sure, but it will also translate into greater progress for you--which means more to thank your mentor for next year.

Here are our top lessons from the book, and insights you can start using right away:

1. Check for Understanding

It sounds simple, but using the phrase, "This is what I'm hearing you say; is that what you meant?" may be the simple most effective change you can make in your mentoring—or any--relationship. Zachary suggests in her book that you "Paraphrase and ask for clarification when important issues are discussed," and do post-meeting wrap-ups, to be sure you're both clear on any decisions made and how next to proceed.

The result? Shared meaning and aligned goals will keep meetings efficient and on track. Going over the finer points of the conversation will also help you nip miscommunications in the bud, before they can blow up and derail your progress, or damage the relationship.

Mentees_guide2. Give (and Don't Be Afraid to Ask For) Feedback

Your mentor(s) must know what you want before they can help you get it.

So be sure to fill them in with consistent, clear feedback on the following: your communication and learning styles; areas you'd specifically like to improve; your perspective in a situation you're discussing; and your concerns/specific questions.

And don't worry about seeming selfish. According to Zachary, "Giving feedback to someone is an act of caring." It demonstrates your commitment to and positive intentions for the relationship—and shows your mentor you care what they think. It will also save him or her the frustration of trying to read your mind.

3. Respect is Key

In order to sustain a trusting, committed mentorship, both parties will need to feel respected. You can demonstrate respect for your mentor—and set the precedent for the same from them—in the following ways: honoring meeting times (and giving them your full attention); listening and actively participating in the sessions; showing consideration for their points of view; and accepting feedback in an manner (or holding off on responding until you've had time to process a critique).

And what do to about disrespect from your mentor? "If you sense disrespect, even expressed humorously… you need to address it," writes Zachary. Trust damaged on either side is a threat to the relationship, so politely speak up.

4. Stay Honest

It's hard to let your guard down with someone you look up to, but if you're being inauthentic, "Distance grows between mentoring partners," Zachary writes. "Conversation becomes stilted. As a mentee, you can easily forget what you have said and haven't said in previous conversations."

And don't think your mentor doesn't notice—"the other party usually detects your lack of candor, Zachary says, adding "Other statements, authentic or not, may be questioned as well."

Beyond trust issues (and the difficulty in keeping up a relationship you can't be yourself in), hiding your shortcomings can also stunt your progress: your mentor simply can't help you improve if they don't know what you need help with.

So if for any reason you feel uncomfortable disclosing such information you may want to recast the net for a better fit.

5. End Things on a High Note

Closure is key to both a good mentoring experience and a productive rapport after its close. As Zachary puts it, "Fully embraced, [closure] is a process that leads to further action. Good closure catapults you forward."

First, set an end date for your mentorship, preferably with the achievement of a goal in mind. Then, set up a celebratory session to cap things off.

The final meeting is an invaluable part of your mentorship as it presents an opportunity to discuss with your mentor what worked and what didn't (valuable information to take with you into your next relationships), and what your next steps are (possibly including a referral to a new mentor).

A closure meeting also gives mentees a perfect venue for expressing their reflections on progress achieved and lessons learned—and of course, their sincere gratitude.

But what to do if you've missed the chance?

Take advantage of "Thank Your Mentor Day" and send a note.

Read More:
Seven Steps to a Great Mentorship
How to Find a Mentor

-- Cathy Vandewater,


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