After reflection, you have decided that you want to be in a mentoring relationship with a specific person and/or you are willing to mentor someone. Now, you may be asking yourself:
- How long is this stage?
- What steps do I take?
- How many steps are there?
Remember that you are building a relationship and, like any relationship, several steps need to happen before moving from one stage to another. At this stage – initiation – steps may include, but not be limited to:
- making introductions
- learning about each other’s
- communication styles
- beliefs about success
- beliefs about advising and mentoring
- establishing goals
- setting and understanding boundaries
- determining accountability strategies
How long does this stage last? That will depend on the willingness and ability of both mentor and mentee to build trust with one another. During this time, both mentee and mentor are discovering what they need to work together, and the best ways to do so.
Trust is the foundation of every relationship. It develops slowly and from being able to, for example, honestly say what is needed/wanted. It deepens as each person becomes comfortable with revealing and sharing parts of their personal and professional selves, and where/how they intersect. Both mentor and mentee must be able to share this information without judgement or feeling as if they are being judged. Without this, the other stages of the mentoring relationship will not be successful.
Let us assume that you have found the person with whom you want to work. Have you TALKED? That is, have you taken time to assess your needs. Have you listened to understand? What do you know or don’t know? Do you need to educate yourself to know more? Have you decided what your next steps are?
Getting to know each other will be one of the most difficult parts of building a mentoring relationship. You arrive to meet each other, sometimes for the first time. Even if it is not the first time you are meeting, you should treat it as if it is, especially if you are changing the type of your relationship you have with one another.
BEARING WITNESS: A CONTEMPLATIVE PRACTICE FOR THE INITIATION STAGE
Why incorporate contemplative practices into mentoring, especially during and between the stages? Contemplative practices help you slow down and reflect on yourself and your interactions with others. They also help you better focus and develop an intentional awareness of living. There are different types of contemplative practices that you can use not only in mentoring, but also in your classroom.
How do you prepare for your first meeting after completing the reflection stage? Whether or not you are meeting in person or virtually, you can prepare by taking a few minutes to answer the questions below.
- Why am I asking for / agreeing to this meeting?
- Students, you may want to use the mentoring map to know what type of mentorship you are seeking through this faculty member.
- What are three questions I need/want to ask and/or know during the meeting?
- How will they help me assess:
- If I have time to provide what is needed/wanted.
- If this is the person with whom I want a mentoring relationship.
- If I need more information to educate myself about the person making the request, and what they need.
- If I can make a decision now or later.
- What would I like to accomplish during and by the end of the meeting?
Before and during your meeting, commit to the practice of Bearing Witness. Commit to seeing the person before you because we all want to be seen. The practice of Bearing Witness is one way of letting each other know that you are actively listening and paying attention. You can do this by listening:
- without interrupting the person speaking.
- without allowing yourself to be distracted by other activities while meeting.
- reflecting back what has been said and asking a question for more information or clarification. For example:
- Thank you for taking the time to meet today. What I am hearing you say or ask for is [fill in the blank]. Could you tell me a little bit more about [fill in the blank]. Or, let me make sure that I understand what you are asking/saying.
- These questions or statements will serve both mentor and mentee well in staying focused on what is being said and having clarity of what is being said.
To bear witness is to intentionally focus on who and what is before you. To do this, you can contemplate the questions below.
- Who is before you?
- What ideas about them do you need to take in or let go?
- What assumptions do you have about them because of identity? Previous experiences?
- What is before you?
- What is the situation being experienced, described?
- What ideas about it do you need to take in or let go?
- What do you need/want?
- How do you ask what is needed/wanted, if it has not been stated?
- How do you ask if your need/want can be met?
- How can you serve or be served?
- Do you have reservations about working together based on what you have heard?
- This can be as simple as recognizing that you do not have time, resources, or attitude to work together.
- How can you listen to learn more?
- How can you help them decide what they need and get it?
- What are your next steps? Individually? Together?
Have You Talked?
Let’s return to where we started. As you begin the initiation stage of mentoring, have you TALKED?
- Take time to learn about what you need.
- If you are the faculty member, ask the graduate student what they need/want, and how/why they think you can be of assistance to them.
- If you are the graduate student, after sharing with the faculty member what you need/want, and how/why you think they can be of assistance to you, ask them whether or not what you need/want is within their interest, time, and/or resources at this moment.
- Be honest with your answers. This can help you determine whether or not you should move forward with each other.
- Assess your needs after you have spoken.
- Neither student nor faculty member should feel rushed to make a decision to work with each other after one meeting. If you can reach that decision then, great. However, if you feel you would like more time to think about it, say so. Do give a date when you will follow-up with a final decision.
- Instead of rushing to say yes, contemplative practices offer you an opportunity to think about your options and the consequences of your responses.
- Listen to understand.
- If you find yourself listening and preparing an answer, stop. Instead, practice listening to the words being said, to facial expressions, to body movements.
- If necessary, let the speaker know you will be taking notes to help you remember and better respond.
- Know what you know or don’t know. And be honest about it.
- Before you end your meeting, do you have what you need to make a decision?
- If not, what questions do you need/want to ask for more information, to get clarification, to what additional resources might be needed?
- Is there anything that made you uncomfortable or uncertain?
- Educate yourself. If you have made the decision to move forward with the relationship, how do you begin to educate yourself about the particular context(s) that will shape your relationship? You may already know quite a bit about each other’s disciplines and research. However, relationships are between people. When thinking about contexts ask yourself, what do I know about this person’s:
- preferred methods of communication?
- boundaries or parameters?
- accountability strategies?
- Decide if this is the mentoring relationship for you and why. Although you can, you do not have to make your decision by the end of the meeting. If you need time to think on it, say so. However, set a follow-up date – within three days - to do so.
- If either of you decide that you do not want to move forward, please say so immediately. But also say why: time restraints, misaligned interests, lack of resources. If faculty, offer suggestions for other possibilities. If time restraints are the reason, but you’d like to work with student in another capacity, say so.
- If you both agree, please say so immediately. And say why. Then:
- schedule monthly meetings for the semester.
- schedule a meeting for two weeks away at which you will discuss:
- goals for the mentoring relationship
- specific projects that are to be addressed (e.g., writing thesis, dissertation, articles; job search; a new skill set)
- a timeline for moving forward
- how you will assess progress/completion of goals
- shorter check-in meetings
How long does this stage last? Again, that will depend on the willingness and ability of both mentor and mentee to build trust with one another about their research and the contexts that shape their research. The more you are able to engage in deep dialogue and deep listening, the more you will be able to learn about each other and the work that you will do together.
Another question you may be asking is how long should this mentoring relationships last? You can best answer this question by engaging with ongoing review and assessment of the original goals that were established. Is mentoring tied to dissertation completion? A publication? Understanding graduate school? At the end of each semester, it is important for mentee and mentor to discuss whether or not their goals have been accomplished and if they wish to continue working with one another. If the answer is yes, then the next stage of mentoring to consider is cultivation. That is, how do you begin to grow and maintain your relationship to ensure continued success for your mentee.
Good mentoring changes lives. To get the mentoring you need, reflect first on what makes you, the mentee, the person who you are. To give the mentoring you want, reflect first on how your mentoring experiences have shaped you and your mentoring practices. Then, initiate a conversation with each other to learn if this is the right step for you and, if so, begin planning your journey. Along the way you will learn a little bit about each other and even more about yourself.
LEARN MORE: Contemplative Education Bibliography, Mentoring African American Faculty, Mentoring Underrepresented Minority Students, Uncovering the Cultural Dynamics in Mentoring Programs and Relationships (book), Mentoring Students of Color: Naming the Power of Race, Social Class, Gender, and Power (book)