A Perspective on Mentoring: Cultivating a Successful Relationship

A hand-drawn photo where you are able to trick your eye into seeing either a young or old woman
If you look at the photo to the right, you may see a young woman or you may see an elderly lady. You may see neither, or something or someone completely different. 
This concept is what APEGA’s Career Development team emphasizes when speaking about cultivating and navigating mentoring relationships—recognizing that people see things differently and someone may have alternative perspectives to yours is paramount to success. Knowing yourself and how you best communicate and manage boundaries is important.
Mentoring is meant to be about building a trusting and meaningful relationship with somebody outside of your typical network. It’s a professional safe area where you can discuss career-related issues or technical elements you want feedback on. This relationship requires both parties to communicate openly and honestly about where they’re at or if they don’t understand something.

Getting to know yourself

Because of unavoidable differences in perspective, mentors and mentees should explore their strengths and weaknesses prior to developing a relationship. It’s as easy as taking a moment to reflect on how they engage with other people. For example: Do they prefer talking or listening? Do they like to walk while they talk? Do they need to organize their thoughts on paper before meeting, or is it easier to casually chat? How do they like to handle disagreements or challenging topics?
APEGA's Career Development team recommends both participants take a personality quiz, such as the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator or the Enneagram test, to help increase self-awareness. These will help mentors and mentees learn about themselves and how to better relate to others. After this self-reflection and introspection, one can find tools to help improve weak areas and know which strengths to share.

What do I have to offer and what do I want to gain?

Having awareness of your accomplishments and strengths as a mentor, and your goals as a mentee, leads to smoother conversations and a productive relationship.
A goal is as simple as looking to take the next step in your career and wanting to define what that is, or getting a broader view of the landscape of work in Alberta. Providing clarity on what you would like to accomplish through the relationship enables your mentor to meet your expectations—though the Career Development team reassures a non-specific goal is fine. The first two mentoring sessions act as a forum for both parties to further define what they would like to accomplish.
Mentors can explore their achievements, strengths, and experiences to discover what they have to offer the mentee. The Career Development team often reminds participants to take stock of softer skills like communicating and working through disagreements, as these also propel careers forward.

Boundaries and expectations

Factors such as personality, culture, language, and values can contribute to what a person is comfortable speaking about, whether they’re comfortable disagreeing or correcting their mentor, and how they perceive conversations. 
Setting boundaries and expectations for these moments at the beginning of the relationship is important to ensure everyone is comfortable communicating. The Career Development team reminds those participating in mentoring relationships that it’s OK to say you don’t understand something, or that you disagree, and these relationships are a safe forum for discussions. Being up front and honest helps build trust in the relationship, and mentors are guides that talk you through situations and hardships. Remembering most people have good intentions can go a long way in preventing misunderstandings and conflict.
Mentors and mentees work together to define time constraints and communication preferences, as well as what they want to accomplish in and out of meetings—all of which must meet both parties’ expectations.

Leading with honesty

APEGA's Career Development team explains that being honest with yourself about the relationship and your limits is really important. When a relationship doesn’t meet expectations, either party can opt for a graceful exit—the opportunity to leave the relationship with no negative connotations or context. If the mentee and mentor enjoy the relationship, they can continue to meet outside of the program once the official mentoring partnership has concluded.
Regardless of the challenges, mentoring is at its core a very simple process with very tangible and attainable benefits. It’s getting together and deciding on goals and how we want to accomplish them. When you lead from that, it’s easier to have an honest conversation with someone about what’s going on in your professional life. It's a simple process with a great impact.