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Mentor Leadership Part 6: R is for Relate

Written by: Lorraine Twombly
Published: April 2013

If you have been following along in previous articles, I have been using MENTOR as an acronym and applying each letter to an element important to the success of the mentor/protégée relationship. This month I want to share the letter R and if you want to look back at the previous five letters, please follow the link: Mentor Leadership Part 5

If we are to be good mentors, shouldn't we try to understand where other people are coming from? We all have our biases and, when we form opinions or make judgments on folks without getting to know them and figuring out what may help them to move forward, we are not performing well as mentors.

The subject of relating came to me as I observed a couple who struggled with understanding each other and often I'd hear complaints about one or the other. Unfortunately, they never learned to try to understand the other's points of view or even listen in the years they were together. One of the spouses would try many things to get the other to listen, pay attention and to show respect. However, the other spouse felt threatened and was not willing to change the behavior that was making matters worse. There were many factures that got in their way, such as a lack of humility (no apologies were made when they were disrespectful and they ignored their own behaviors toward each other), not being attentive to the other's needs or listening to their discussions, complaining to their friends about the other's incompetence, and rolling their eyes every five minutes because they didn't have the patience to relate to each other. Both spouses were at fault and may have saved their relationship but there was something seriously blocking their ability to get through to each other. If one of the spouses had thought about how to relate to the other, while respecting where they are coming from, would the relationship be over today?

Relating to others' issues can be as natural as saying, "I understand where you are coming from." Just that statement alone helps the person you are mentoring to feel like you are listening to them and that you can relate to whatever issues they may have. Even if you do not totally understand what the person means, acknowledging the emotion or saying those few words allows people start to do something about whatever is going on. Once that is said, we can move on to asking good questions on what they plan to do to eliminate the stress of the issue, or whatever else is holding them back to being the best they could be.

Why is relating to others so important? Isn't it our job as mentors to let people vent to a certain degree so we can find out what's really happening in that person's life, especially if that person asks for it? Most people (if not all) have situations or stories to tell that they need to share and figure out. Wouldn't it be great if we all had the patience to listen to them and perhaps ask enough questions that will trigger some problem solving thoughts?

Relating to others is making the much needed connection to humanity. It is what keeps our heads up knowing that we are not the only ones going through whatever comes our way, whether they bad or misunderstood situations. Reinforcing other people's need to be understood and heard are the last keys to mentoring at an "excellent" level.

Relating to others shows respect and how much you care about what happens to them. Too many times, I've seen people ignore others who need help because of some bias or other disturbing thoughts that lean toward negativity. Some people just do not want to be bothered or were taught to mind their own business and let people do for themselves, etc.  These folks may not want to be mentors and probably struggle with relationships in some area of their lives.

Why not:

  • Relate by asking others what's wrong or how they are doing or feeling?
  • Connect by listening and saying, "I understand what you are saying or how you feel...what can I do to help?" (Stay away from "been there, done that".)
  • Ask what they are going to do and how to help them in some way?
  • Pay attention to the little things that can be appreciated in others and acknowledge, understand, and, therefore, relate? (It"s not just about the negative issues.)
  • Seize every moment to help others, even if you are not considered a "mentor" in your organization? (It's about respecting others, which in turns makes you a respected person.)
  • Be the leader who relates to others for the sake of humanity?

Please feel free to comment on this or previous articles...thanks for reading!

Lorraine Twombly

Lorraine Twombly