Active Listening The Most Important Skill for Effective Mentors and Mentees

Active Listening: The Most Important Skill for Effective Mentors and Mentees

In any relationship, communication makes the most important part. This stands true for mentorship as well, and in a relationship involving mentors and mentees, either entity should pay utmost regards to their communication style. The communication style should work for the mentoring partner. 

Communication is a skill that sometimes calls for a personal endeavor to master. At school, a student is taught how to read write and speak, but not how to listen.

We do spend lots of time hearing, but the attention levels are higher only when the information meets our interest. We unconsciously tend to block and forget the uninteresting part. Of the time spent hearing, it is only 25-50% of the time that we actually listen.

So what is it that makes one listen more, such that one becomes an active listener?

If we consider the mentors’ viewpoint, a proactive approach towards listening is of a great deal of significance. Mentors and mentees are likely to spend the majority of the time that they spend with each other interacting or listening. Practicing active listening is of a great deal of significance over here.

Let us take a look at a definition of active listening. It is a technique in which a one fully concentrates over what is being said. This allows one to understand and respond to what is being said, such that the interaction stays alive. With active listening, one finds it easier to remember what one listens to.

Mentors are frequently active listeners. Here are some traits for listening that mentors frequently have, and mentors and mentees should both develop:

Active listening traits mentors and mentees should develop
  1. Halting the speaking part to be a better listener

Halting speaking to listen better is common sense, but it is nevertheless slightly more difficult to achieve in practice. There are cases wherein some people halt speaking, only to wonder what they should be saying next.

This is not something that active listeners do. They are not deeply focused on how they intend to respond to what is being said. Instead, they intently listen to what their mentorship partner is saying. 

  1. Listening is a learning experience for them

Mentoring is a lifelong learning experience for most mentors. Being an active listener is also a learning experience for mentors.

It is only when mentors see the listening experience as a learning experience that they become good at it. In numerous cases, mentors see the mentee as someone from whom they can learn something. The identity of the speaker does not matter. Mentors find something to learn from the experience.

  1. Giving direction to the conversation

Active listeners are seldom delighted with a simple yes or a no. They proactively avoid posing close-ended questions and instead pose the open-ended ones. When queries are discussed broadly, it empowers mentees to think for them self and come up with responses to their queries. 

A few of the top examples of open-ended questions are, ‘Have you considered any alternatives to X?’ and ‘What changes do you see happening in your career upon doing Y?’

  1. Induce a thought process

Mentors frequently use guiding questions. This enables mentees to come up with responses that they are trying to find. But great mentees never give lofty responses that take the thought processes to the horizons. Instead, they will summarize a conversation by figuring the items in the same that are actionable.

These objectives are better achieved by asking open-ended questions such as ‘How do you plan to achieve X?’, or ‘What made you arrive at Y as your preferred choice?’ Such questions are specific and direct. But they deliver important insights and help devise a course of action.

  1. Reading between the lines

When great mentees listen, words are not all that they pay heed to. Instead, they will focus on your tone of voice and your body language as well. This delivers some additional insights for them regarding the conversation. It expresses the context and the true meaning of the words.

In many cases, what a mentee actually wants to express is difficult to define in words alone. It may have emotional or cerebral aspects associated with the same. These matters are expressed through one’s body language. Mentors hence lookout for such tell-tale signs which express more than words.

  1. Paying attention, summarizing and offering positive feedback

A great mentor will always respectfully listen to what you have to say while offering a reasonable bit of attention. They retain the respect for the mentee, even while they do not find themselves in agreement with the mentee’s thoughts.

They often summarize the conversations with statements such as ‘If I understand correctly’. This makes the mentees feel at home. Another one of the most characteristic traits of great mentors is that they keep their body language positive. They will nod or smile, or say a positive uh-huh. Such signs signify understanding and interest.

Active listening may sound something very basic to do, which comes naturally to a listener. But the truth is that it takes a significant bit of energy to be an active listener.

People who actually practice active listening do more than merely listening. They always keep a notebook and a pen handy with them. They sit up straight when they listen to someone and frequently take notes. At times, they ask a question when something isn’t clear, or they may ask you to repeat yourself. 

If your mentor has these behavioural traits, you just found a great mentor for yourself. Such behavioural traits show that the mentor is dedicated to your welfare. If all of us became active listeners, it would make the world a better place.

There is an important point of difference that demarks active listening from the regular conversation. When one listens actively, the point of focus lies over the person with whom you are interacting, and not over yourself.

People generally find it difficult to listen actively because when we listen to someone else’s thoughts, the initial response is always to see where the subject matter fits in one’s own life. The response that we thereafter come up with is frequently our take on the situation or our perspective of the matter.

Great mentors always try and make sure that they are mindful of such tendencies. Instead, they lay their unconditional focus over what the mentee is saying. This puts a mentor in a better position to process the mentee’s thoughts.

It is only then that a mentor understands the true meaning behind the mentee’s words. He similarly processes the associated feelings better. 

Let us take a look at a few of the top tips for mentors that not only bring success to their business but allow them to make a significant difference in the life of their mentees.

  • It is preferable to not be judgemental. A mentor should closely pay attention to what a mentee is saying, but giving advice is not always the best policy. If the mentee is an adolescent, giving advice may discourage him from speaking to you.
  • Whenever a mentee contacts a mentor, a mentor should take steps to make sure that the trust in the relationship is high. This is the only way in which a mentee will be encouraged to discuss intricate matters with you.
  • Confidentiality is another critical factor in a mentor-mentee relationship.
  • A mentor should establish frequent eye contact with a mentor while he speaks. Similarly, instead of sitting side by side, a mentor and a mentee should always sit facing each other. A mentor should maintain a good posture and lean towards a mentee when required. It is preferable to maintain an open stance and avoid crossing the arms.
  • Then, a mentor should be very conscious regarding his tone of voice. The voice tends to rise easily when one is anxious. Great mentors make it a point to safeguard against the same. They try and speak slowly and at a moderate volume at all times. Take slow and deep breaths when you have a tendency to raise your voice.

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