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9 Important Features of Successful Mentors' Attitudes and Styles
1. Be a friend.
- Try not to be an authority figure.
- Teach by being a role model.
- Do focus on establishing a bond, a feeling of attachment, a sense of equality and mutual shared time.
2. Have realistic goals and expectations.
- Focus on the youth and his or her overall development.
- Center your goals on the relationship itself, especially early on.
- Emphasize friendship over performance throughout the relationship.
3. Have fun together.
- Many youth involved in mentoring programs have few opportunities for fun.
- Having fun together shows your mentee that you are reliable and committed.
- Focusing on "fun" activities early in the relationship can lead to more "serious" activities later.
4. Give your mentee a choice in deciding activities.
- Give a range of choices of possible activities.
- Create an "idea file" together.
- Emphasize to your mentee that her or his enjoyment is important to you.
5. Be positive.
- Offer frequent expressions of praise and encouragement.
- Be encouraging even when talking about potentially troublesome topics, such as grades.
- Offer concrete assistance in a way that builds self-confidence.
6. Let your mentee have much of the control over what you talk about and how.
- Don’t push - be patient.
- Be sensitive and responsive to your mentee’s cues.
- Understand that young people vary in their styles of communicating and their habits of disclosure.
- Be direct in letting your mentee know that he or she can confide in you without fear of judgment or exposure (exceptions are abuse or safety issues).
- Remember that the activities you do together can become a source of future conversation.
- "Just listening" gives mentees a chance to vent and lets them know they can disclose personal matters to you without being criticized.
- When you listen, your mentee can see that you are a friend, not an authority figure.
8. Respect the trust your mentee places in you.
- Respond in ways that show you see your mentee’s side of things.
- Reassure your mentee that you will be there for him or her.
- If you give advice, be sure it is focused on identifying solutions.
- If, on occasion, you feel you have to convey concern, do so in a way that also conveys reassurance and acceptance.
- Sound like a friend, not a parent.
- Be nonjudgmental about family information.
9. Remember that you are responsible for building the relationship.
- Take responsibility for making and maintaining contact.
- Understand that the feedback and reassurance characteristic of adult relationships is often beyond the capacity of youth.
- Allow yourself to recognize and appreciate the quiet moments that indicate you are making a difference.
7 Habits of Highly Successful Mentors
1. They see themselves as "friends" rather than teachers or parents and define their role as supporting the mentee in a variety of ways.
2. They are "active listeners."
3. They make a commitment to being consistent and dependable, to maintaining a steady presence in the youth’s life.
4. They understand that the relationship may seem fairly one-sided - they may feel like they are doing all the work - and they take responsibility for keeping the relationship alive. For example, early in the relationship, youth often test adults to determine whether they will actually stick around. Successful mentors regularly initiate contact and ensure meeting dates are kept.
5. They involve the mentee in deciding how the pair will spend their time together. While youth are often reticent about expressing what they want to do, successful mentors take the time to learn about the youth’s interests and provide them with options for how to spend their time, rather than planning everything without input from the youth.
6. They pay attention to the mentee’s need for "fun." Having fun together is a key part of building relationships, and it also provides the youth with valuable opportunities that may not be otherwise available to them.
7. They seek and utilize the help of program staff. Successful mentors recognize that they don’t have all the answers, and they value the support and guidance program staff can bring.
The Importance of Active Listening
Active listening is the most important skill of a good mentor. When you talk with your mentee, try to remember to:
- Clear your mind of unnecessary thoughts and distractions, so you can give her or him your undivided attention.
- If your mentee is much smaller than you, sit when you talk, so you are at about the same level.
- Make eye contact.
- Be aware of your body language.
- Pay attention to your mentee’s facial expressions, gestures, and body language.
- Read between the lines for your mentees feelings. Learn to say, "How did that make you feel?"
- Ask open-ended questions. Don’t ask, "How was school today?" Instead ask, "What did you do in school today?" Then, as appropriate, ask nonthreatening follow-up questions.
- Paraphrase (restate in your own words) what you think the mentee has said. When paraphrasing is accurate, your mentee will feel understood. If it is off the mark, it invites him or her to clarify and also reminds you to listen more closely.
- Ask questions when you don’t understand.
- Put aside preconceived notions, and refrain from passing judgment.
- Acknowledge that you are listening by occasionally nodding your head and making comments.
- Give your mentee the same respect that you desire for yourself when you are talking to someone.