Listening is an essential mentoring skill and, once again, it topped our Wheelhouse Mentoring Survey list as the number one attribute of a good mentor.
Thanks to the responses of our readers (like you!) we also collected the following additional characteristics of good listeners:
- Uses active listening.
- Provides a safe environment for a mentee to share and take risks.
- Demonstrates empathy.
- Picks up on all the subtle (or not so subtle) clues to tailor appropriate responses.
- Is nonjudgmental and has unconditional positive regard for their mentee.
- Keeps an open mind.
- Is truly, authentically interested in the development of their mentee.
- Encourages mentees to come up with solutions themselves by asking probing questions.
- Stays focused on their mentee.
- Possesses the humility to accept that they don’t know all the best ways of doing things.
- Remains fully present in the conversation.
- Listens and learns; doesn’t just share their expertise.
Here’s an example of how listening should work in a mentoring relationship, and why it’s so important:
Kasi wanted someone to listen and understand her concerns and challenges. Jonah, her mentor, got it and got her.
Kasi: “I feel like I’m stuck. I don’t see where I can go and grow in this organization. Maybe I need to go back to school and get an MBA.”
Jonah: “Feeling stuck is no fun. I think everyone feels that way at one time or another in their career. I know I’ve been there. I found, both for me and many others who have shared those feelings, it isn’t always the long range career path. Sometimes it is a short term lull — like what you are doing now doesn’t interest you anymore. Does that make sense?”
Kasi: “Yes it does, I don’t feel like I am working on interesting projects anymore. All the new projects seem to be going to others. I feel like I am being left behind.”
Jonah: “That, I know, is not a good feeling. When you see others get what appears to be the latest and greatest project, it can easily make you second guess yourself. I just want to remind you of what you told me before in our earlier conversations. And that is your supervisor values your work, and you are well-respected. So I don’t believe it has to do with your contribution. Have you talked to your supervisor about these feelings of yours and about a new assignment?”
Kasi: “I haven’t. I guess I had hoped I would be the natural go-to person when something new came up.”
Jonah: “Well, I am sure that might have been your hope, but I can tell you, as a supervisor, that, number one, I am not a mind reader. I don’t always know that someone wants a new assignment, and two, I do tend to rely on people like you who are responsible and can get the job done. I give them free reign to do their work and appreciate that I don’t have to watch over them. I guess this is a reminder for me, too. Not to take their contribution for granted.”
Kasi: “So you think I need to be speaking up more about what I need, not just put my head down and get the job done?”
Jonah: “I do. Let’s give it a try.”
Seems pretty straightforward, right? As you can see, Jonah is a mentor who listens. He refers back to previous conversations, showing he’s invested in Kasi. He also acknowledges what she’s feeling, listens to the words she’s using, and digs deeper into why she’s feeling the way she does.
What’s great about this example, too? It showcases several other top qualities listed in our survey — empathy, focus, nonjudgmental, etc. A truly great mentor combines these top qualities into an unforgettable experience for their mentees!
Key Takeaway: How well are you listening? Use the top 12 qualities in this post to help you benchmark your listening skills.