We get lots of questions from mentors and mentoring program managers on what they need to do in order to have a successful mentoring relationship and an overall successful program.

It’s important to note that you won’t master these skills overnight. In fact, some of these skills are ones we’ll all be working on throughout our lives. That said, we’ve found that the mentors who embrace these skills sooner rather than later are the ones who experience the most success in their mentoring relationship.

Open mindness.
By far, one of the most important skills you need to have is the ability to keep an open mind. We all come to the mentoring “table” with our own thoughts, our own value system, and our own prejudices. This is normal: it’s called being human. But the purpose of mentoring is to transform.. For this to occur, everyone needs to open their minds to new ways of thinking. It’s not always easy, and it will likely be an ongoing process throughout the mentoring relationship. The point is to be aware of what you’re thinking…and how it’s affecting the relationship.

Active listening.
There are two types of listening: active and passive, and their definitions are just as their names imply. When you actively listen, you’re fully engaged with the other person. You’re focused on what he or she is saying, and you reinforce what the person is saying by offering nonverbal cues, such as eye contact and nodding your head. Active listeners are alert, sit up straight, ask questions, and show their sincere interest in what the other person is saying. Both mentors and mentees need to engage in active listening with one another.

Tough questioning.
The way to dig deeper into an issue is by asking questions, and sometimes the most important questions are hard to ask. Ask them anyway. Do so with diplomacy and tact, of course, but go ahead and ask.

Total honesty.
This goes hand-in-hand with the previous skill. If you ask a tough question — or if you’re asked a tough question — be prepared to hear honest answers (or to deliver honest answers). It’s not always easy to be completely honest, but it’s important. Of course, to be honest, you need to feel safe. Here’s an article on why safety matters in mentoring.

Deeper reflection and self-awareness.
You ask a tough question, you hear an honest answer, and now what? This is where reflection and self-awareness come in. It’s easy to want to move away from the challenging conversations and onto easier subjects. But the most successful mentoring relationship won’t allow for this. Instead, mentors and mentees will take time to reflect on what’s been discussed. This is important because when we’re discussing difficult issues, we can often slip into defense mode in the heat of the moment. Taking time to reflect, however, can help us avoid knee-jerk reactions and, instead, help us grow. Which is the whole point, right?