One of the most important parts of mentoring is communication. Even though you and your Scholar may not be close in age or have similar backgrounds, using the following tips, you can effectively listen and be heard.
When you’re speaking with someone, you want to know that they are hearing you. It can be upsetting or frustrating to have a one-sided conversation (perhaps the other is playing on their phone or just tuning out). The same is true for your Scholar. When they begin to open up and converse with you, they are looking for involvement and understanding from you.
Active listening can be easy. You can use nonverbal gestures like making eye contact or nodding your head. You can use “verbal nodding” like “right” or “yes” or any other variations. Even simple things like not sitting with your arms crossed and putting your phone away can send the message that you value what your Scholar says.
It’s also good to respond with questions. And open-ended questions can show that you understood what they said and help propel the conversation further.
This is an important technique as it helps to avoid misinterpretations. In the basic sense, you’re simply repeating back what your Scholar said to you, as you understand it. This allows your Scholar to determine whether or not you understood what they were trying to tell you. It lets them clarify the meaning if it was misunderstood.
Putting a situation in context should not be embraced as playing the “devil’s advocate.” It’s far more delicate than that. With this technique, you’re trying to present a new perspective and show how things could be different. You’re attempting to provide both sides to the story, but not in an antagonistic way. Invite your scholar to try to view the topic of discussion from a different perspective. "Why do you think they did that?" You can also help your scholar examine an issue by taking it out of context to see if the situation changes.
Along these same lines, you need to be prepared to put yourself in your Scholar’s shoes and see what they are telling you from their perspective. In psychology it’s called decentering and refers to the ability to consider multiple aspects of a situation. Master this technique and you’ll be on your way to developing a deeper connection with your Scholar.
As mentioned with active listening, when your Scholar is talking about those things that are important to them – school, sports, family, etc. – they want to be heard. They want you to know how important the topic is to them. You need to show them you get it and provide validation.
For example, your Scholar may be discussing a difficult relationship with another student at school. You could respond by saying, “Wow. That sounds like it is really hard.” And then follow up with an open-ended question such as “How did you feel about it the next day?” or “Now that you’ve had time to think about it, what would you have done differently?”
This shows that you heard the speaker and acknowledged his or her feelings. The follow up question helps to move the discussion forward.
There are dozens of other ways to help improve communications with your Scholar, but these will help you get started.
If you're ready to read more, check out Mentoring.org's Communication and Listening guide.