I reconnected with a former student recently when Facebook alerted me that it was her birthday. As is my custom, I sent her a short “Happy Birthday” note. A couple of back-and-forth notes, and it dawned on me that I have now known this amazing young woman for 13 years!
We don’t communicate regularly…mostly birthday wishes and stuff like that. But I was reminded this morning (love those memories that float up from the mists!) of the incident that cemented our friendship.
I was teaching part-time at a college south of Boston and was sitting in my “office” when I overheard a conversation she was having with her faculty advisor. I wasn’t eavesdropping, in case you’re wondering. The set-up of the part-timers’ office space was such that we could hear…whether we wanted to or not…virtually everything going on around us.
Anyway, my take on her meeting was that it didn’t go well at all. From what I heard the professor say to her, it was pretty obvious that he basically didn’t give a damn.
When she left his office, practically in tears, I caught her eye and invited her to come in…sit…and talk. While I was new at this teaching thing, I had enough professional experience that I was able to help her get a handle on the problem she had and to give her some suggestions on what she could do to resolve it. But I was able to do this for one simple reason…I listened.
And that’s one of the key factors in mentoring…it’s a give-and-take relationship, with both parties playing an active role in the process. And…yes…listening is an active thing. You’re absorbing everything that the other party is saying, processing it through the filters of your own knowledge and experience, and responding with suggestions on how he or she can best approach the challenge.
Going back to my young friend/former student…I can’t begin to describe how impressed I am with where she is today. She has established herself solidly in the career field that she identified as her future and is doing amazing things!
I hasten to add that I honestly had nothing to do with this success. I actually left the college where I met her to take a full-time position elsewhere. But, again, thanks to the “magic” of Facebook and LinkedIn, I have been able to stay relatively up to speed on what she has been and is doing.
Listening is something that is so easily overlooked or given short shrift. I can’t tell you how many times myself I’ve gone to a colleague hoping to get some guidance only to wind up being subjected to either a lecture or a diatribe that does nothing more than waste my time.
It obviously helps if you have actual experience that relates to the situation that your mentee is dealing with. But it’s not a perfect world. Sometimes you just have to listen to the words behind what the other person is saying and then offer suggestions on how he or she might best approach it.
Listening is just that…listening…actively and compassionately. It’s the “secret sauce” in mentoring.