By Dr. Harry Tennant


by Harry Tennant
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Entries with keyword: mentoring
Posts 1 - 2 of 2

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Mentoring: Getting to Issues

Mentoring in the Big Brothers/Big Sisters sense is different from mentoring a new researcher, engineer or software developer (where most of my mentoring experience has been).  Mentoring a software developer typically starts at the conceptual level, revolving around skills and knowledge related to the task of developing software. But it also provides a handy starting place for other conversations going beyond technology. Often mentoring conversations don't end with technical discussions. There are many more general issues that the developer may have in mind such as feelings of frustration with new technology, possibly issues of fitting into a new organization, dealing with a difficult boss or colleague and so on. These emotional issues are similar to the kinds of issues most prevalent in a less specific mentoring situation such as being a Big Brother to a kid in school.

While it's nice for the mentee to "have somebody there" it is much more useful to "have someone to talk to." And that means, of course, someone to talk to about emotional issues and feelings, not just about concepts like the proper syntax of a database query. How does the mentee get to that point?

Conversations where one opens up about feelings and vulnerabilities may not come easily. The mentee may be particularly reluctant to trust the mentor with inner thoughts if trust has been a mentee issue in the past. There tends to be tension and anxiety when revealing inner secrets but there are several techniques that can ease the tension.

Displacement activities can help relieve the tension in an anxious conversation. Displacement activities provide something else to attend to but which is not very demanding of attention. For example, if your goal is to have a conversation about feelings of fear or anxiety, shooting some baskets or playing a game of "horse" is a good displacement activity (if you both like basketball.) On the other hand, an intense game of basketball is unlikely to help much because it fully absorbs one's attention.  Other good displacement activities are going for a walk, having lunch together or playing a board game.

Particularly helpful displacement activities are those where the mentor helps the mentee with something. Say the mentee is a high school kid washing the car for a date. Help him or her wash the car. In the course of the car wash, the mentee might bring up questions or the mentor might ask some. Working together side by side, particularly on a task of value to the mentee, is a good way to relax and open up a conversation.

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Keywords: mentoring


Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Online Mentoring

What does one do with all these buckets of wisdom (???) collected over a working lifetime? Mentoring can put it to use, and the way to do it today is primarily online.

I have mentored professionals in the past and continue to do so today. Decades ago, face to face meetings were the way to go. Either meet on an as-needed basis or on a more formal scheduled basis. Sometimes meetings were done in the office if convenient or perhaps at lunch meetings.

Today, you can be far more efficient and effective using online technology for mentoring. Email, video chat, phone calls and webinar-style connections allow mentors and mentees to connect when questions arise and address them immediately. In fact, I prefer online webinar-style meetings to face-to-face meetings when the topic of discussion is specific such as software development questions. Better than two people trying to crowd around the same keyboard, mouse and monitor, you can both be looking at a shared screen image, control of the mouse and keyboard can go from one to the other easily, and the discussion is concrete, not a bunch of abstractions and likely misunderstandings.

For more general discussions I like video chat links such as using Skype or ooVoo (my preference). The communication isn't quite as good as face to face meetings, but I find it better than a phone call yet just as spontaneous as a phone call. And if there's a need to quickly get more specific, you can switch over to a webinar connection.

K12 Mentoring

My experience with mentoring has been almost entirely limited to within a business environment. Why? Because that's where it could be done without considerable overhead of getting a mentee and myself at the same place to have a mentoring session. But online mentoring has changed all that. One of the things that the new technology enables is the ability for life-experienced and work-experienced people to work with students.

When the whole tribe sat around the campfire at night there was easy communication between the young and the old. Experience and novel challenges were easily passed in both directions. But today, kids rarely know exactly what their parents or other adults do at work all day or how they do it. And adults have only a vague understanding of what school life is really like. But that can change with online mentoring. The dinner table is probably still the best place to talk about life's challenges and solutions with your own kids, but to work with other kids, online mentoring is easy and convenient.

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Keywords: mentoring

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