Mentor? Mentee? Mentos? - How to make the most of a mentoring relationship
November 23, 2011 8:58 AM   Subscribe

Do you mentor someone? Are you being mentored? What advice would you give to someone who is new to mentoring?

I'm aware that I need to develop some relationships with some mentors if I am able to move forward in my career (adult learning) and in my personal and creative development.

But you know what? I find the whole act of asking someone for continuing guidance and help to be really quite intimidating. Plus I'm currently living in Austria, so some of my mentors might only be contactable online.

So for someone new to this whole mentor-protege thing - what advice can you give to both healthily begin and continue working with a mentor?

If you've asked specific friends to take on the role of the mentor, have you needed to define what is being friends and what is mentoring?
posted by pipstar to Human Relations (7 answers total) 15 users marked this as a favorite
"Hey, name. Can I buy you coffee or lunch sometime? I have some questions about area_of_expertise. Let me know."

"Hey, name. Quick question about area_of_expertise: (question). Thanks so much for making/doing X/supporting the X community."

Then you continue to talk to them like normal people when you're not getting advice.
posted by michaelh at 9:06 AM on November 23, 2011 [2 favorites]

Here's a little article about it from Get Rich Slowly.

I would advise being proactive about working with a mentor. You're usually getting more from them then they are getting from you out of the deal (unless they just love mentoring that much), and so you need to make it as easy as possible for them to meet with you, thank them, do things like send cards, make them feel good about it so they will keep helping you!
posted by treehorn+bunny at 9:39 AM on November 23, 2011 [2 favorites]

I'm mentoring someone right now at work, my seniors asked me to, and for good reason. One of the biggest niggles I'm having is that she simply won't listen to me.... this comes in the form of passive arguing and passive ignoring. That makes me have less time for her.
posted by misspony at 9:49 AM on November 23, 2011 [1 favorite]

I've usually wanted mentors when I've felt impressed by people's presentations or accomplishments, so that always gives a great in: Hi mentor, I was really interested in what you said today - I'd love to get your advice on some things I've been thinking about/future directions I'm considering/etc. I know you're busy, but if you have 20 minutes to meet, I'd be highly appreciative.

Email works, too.
posted by namesarehard at 11:35 AM on November 23, 2011

I've been both a mentor and mentee, and both in formal and informal mentoring programs.

I think that the mentee should drive the agenda. You should have an idea of where you want to go in your career, and how you think the mentor can help you. If you get advice or a recommendation from your mentor, let them know what you did and how it worked out. Approach people you respect and want to learn from, and let them know why you have approached them. (I've been in situations as misspony is seeming to describe where someone is told they have to have me mentor them, and it just is not productive for either party). Keep in mind that this is a relationship like any other and sometimes it just doesn't work out due to chemistry or some other reason that is not anyone's fault.

I have found mentors to be useful for: learning skills, giving me perspectives I had not considered, making recommendations about what I should do differently, and exposing me to information that I would not otherwise have.
posted by elmay at 11:45 AM on November 23, 2011 [3 favorites]

Hmm, a lot of mentoring takes place in what corporate lingo might call "meaningful conversations". And in my experience they can range from sitting down for a coffee and talking something through for the next hr to bumping into someone on the way back from the breakout room and exchanging a couple of sentences walking back to your desk. A couple of well chosen sentences mind you which got me thinking about things I needed to think about. So I think you may be over thinking this. Informal mentoring relationships arise because you work with people, you network with people. You then know people and can call them for a chat and can get some input on whatever it is you're faced with. Repeat as necessary. As you develop a particular relationship you then can ask for more formal support from specific individuals if that's what you want. But it's best to have a small network of people you can call on because you get different perspectives and can normally reach at least one person...

If you are able to enter a more formal relationship then it is very much up to you to drive the agenda. You bring an issue to your mentor and the mentor helps you clarify it in your mind and gives you a sounding board to work out how to resolve. Again you repeat that as required.

For what it's worth I have been both a formal and informal mentor and benefit from formal and informal mentoring relationships myself.
posted by koahiatamadl at 12:23 PM on November 23, 2011

Find someone who kicks ass in one of the areas in which you're weak. Then ask this:

"I know you're busy and I also know that you're great at X. I have a few questions and I promise I won't waste your time. Can I buy you lunch or a cup of coffee and ask you my questions?"

Then make good on it - come with a list of questions. Take copious notes. When you get home, type up those notes and save them somewhere you won't lose them. Refer back to them as needed.

People are willing to do that for friends, relatives or even acquaintances. Whether or not they'd be willing to do it every week for the rest of your life, that's a different matter. But if you use your/their time wisely, no one will begrudge answering questions from someone who is earnest.
posted by guster4lovers at 12:47 PM on November 23, 2011 [4 favorites]

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