The Power of Connection: Prioritizing Relationship Building in Professional Mentorships

To celebrate National Mentoring Month, we are featuring a series of guest posts reflecting on mentorship. This week’s feature from Katherine Murphy, Employee Development Lead with the Argonne Leadership Institute, emphasizes the importance of building a strong relationship with your mentor or mentee.

Mentorship is an exceptional employee development tool available for those who want to positively impact their professional growth. One crucial component of a successful mentorship experience is the level of relationship built between the mentor and mentee. Focusing on building a strong relationship with your mentor or mentee early on, and being intentional about maintaining that focus, not only helps to go beyond the basic exchange of information during your interactions. It helps create depth in your mentorship experience, allowing true learning and growth to occur.

Why Prioritize Relationship Building in Mentorship?

  1. Comfort. The better you know your mentor and mentee, the more you will be willing to share with them. Your interactions will become less transactional or uncomfortable, and you will be more inclined to reveal details about your experiences, goals, etc. than you might to someone with whom you do not have a positive rapport.
  2. Trust. Similar to comfort, having mutual trust in a mentorship relationship allows you to be vulnerable and focus on areas that may be more impactful to your professional growth than those that are more surface level.
  3. A Personalized Approach to Mentorship. The more you know about your mentor or mentee’s goals, strengths, weaknesses, etc., the more tailored the guidance and support you can give and will receive.

Tips For Focusing on Relationship Building in Mentorship

  1. Set Clear Expectations. Be upfront about what you are hoping to gain from the relationship, as well as what you are able to give. An imbalance of expectations can create frustration and erode trust in a mentorship relationship, so it is imperative to set realistic expectations at the start.
  2. Be Honest and Follow Through. One way to build trust in your relationship is to be honest with each other. For example, if your mentor or mentee comes to you with an issue in which you do not feel you have the level of expertise needed to help, acknowledge that feeling instead of providing incorrect guidance. Work with them to brainstorm how they could find an expert in this area to help. Similarly, if you commit to something with your mentor or mentee, be intentional about honoring that commitment. If you are unable to follow through with it, show humility during your conversation with them about why you could not bring it to an end, being open and honest about the situation. Showing vulnerability and honesty helps create a safe space for the other person to also be vulnerable while building trust.
  3. Share Your Experiences. One powerful learning tool is storytelling. Sharing your experiences and how you have handled different situations (right or wrong) will help foster learning and open the potential for more meaningful conversations.
  4. Ask Questions and Practice Active Listening. Learn about your mentor or mentee by asking questions. For example, what are some effective ways we can create an environment of trust and mutual respect? Then, be intentional about actively listening to their responses. Demonstrate real interest in hearing about their thoughts and goals without becoming distracted. Ask about their hobbies or interests outside of the mentorship program and find commonalities.
  5. Bring Levity into the Mentorship Relationship. Adding lightness and appropriate humor to your mentorship can help create a more comfortable environment and improve rapport. This can include celebrating milestones, sharing a relevant meme, making a joke to lighten the conversation, or sharing lighthearted stories about your experiences. Be mindful of boundaries and context to reap the most benefit.

Participation in the Argonne Mentorship Program is a noteworthy step in taking ownership over your professional development and helping others excel. To experience the highest level of success and impact, be intentional about building and maintaining a strong relationship with your mentor and mentee. If building a relationship has yet to be a focus in your mentorship, it is never too late to start! Oftentimes these relationships expand beyond the program, realizing benefits to both people for years to come.

About Kristene Henne

Kristene “Tina” Henne is Argonne’s Postdoctoral Program Lead for the Argonne Leadership Institute. In this role, she facilitates the postdoc appointment process, postdoc career development, mentoring, advises the Postdoctoral Society of Argonne and serves as a navigator for postdoctoral issues.
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