The definition of mentoring varies among cultures. How the word mentor is culturally understood can alter the very essence of a mentoring relationship. For example, the word mentor might be closely related to teacher, supervisor, or expert in another cultural context. It might not translate directly, or it could connote a negative association because of a perception that it is a position of weakness to seek a mentor.

Effectiveness in a cross-cultural mentoring relationship depends on a mentor’s cross-cultural competency.

Here are some strategies to increase your competency:

1. Become Culturally Self Aware

Identify the culturally derived values and assumptions that could affect your relationship. It may be that you were brought up in a culture where sharing feelings is inappropriate or that a one-on-one learning relationship is seen as weakness. What values and assumptions do you hold that someone might not readily understand from a culture other than your own?

2. Develop a Working Knowledge of and Appreciation for Other Cultures

Seek information about your mentee’s country. What do you know about its people? Its politics and government?  Key historical and cultural achievements? Dominant religious beliefs and practices? Family and social structure? Educational system? Economics and industry?  Geography, sports, entertainment, and symbols?

3. Improve Your Communication Skills

Ask open-ended questions. Paraphrase and reflect feelings and content. Repeat and rephrase. Talk about areas where there might be cultural misunderstanding. Check for understanding by asking what specific words, phrases, or expressions mean. Avoid examples that are regionally or culturally specific. Whenever possible, use universal examples and be as descriptive as possible.

4. Become Culturally Attuned to Other Cultures

Be aware that people from other cultures do not always express their feelings verbally. Avoid asking questions that are personal, embarrassing, or probing.

Learn more from our workshop Mentoring Across the Generational Divide