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 AJ Conway, APEGA’s mentoring and networking coordinator, 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.”
He says this relationship requires both parties to communicate openly and honestly about where they’re at or if they don’t understand something. We communicate all the time but often don’t think about how we communicate, he states.

Getting to know yourself

Because of unavoidable differences in perspective, AJ suggests mentors and mentees explore their strengths and weaknesses prior to developing a relationship. He says 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?
He recommends both participants take a personality quiz to help increase self-awareness, such as the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator or the Enneagram test. “The tests help you learn why you do things the way you do. These soft skills are really good ways to understand how to better relate to others.” 
After self-reflecting and getting to know what drives you, AJ says you can then 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?

He highlights being aware 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 AJ 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. “We tend to temp down our smaller accomplishments and minimize things we should celebrate that are really significant,” says AJ, who often tells mentors to take stock of softer skills like communicating and working through disagreements, as these also propel careers forward.

Boundaries and expectations

AJ explains 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. “It’s ok to say you don’t understand something, or that you disagree. This isn’t your employer or a place of judgement—this is a safe forum for you to talk about things. Being upfront and honest helps build trust in the relationship. Your mentor is someone who will talk you through situations and hardships.” He says remembering most people have good intentions can go a long way in preventing misunderstandings and conflict.
The pair needs to 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

“Being honest with yourself about the relationship and your limits is really important,” reminds AJ. 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.
AJ says 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 is a simple process, with a great impact.”

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AJ Conway

AJ Conway
APEGA's mentoring and networking coordinator