The dialogue

Welcome to this series of four films where the leadership specialists Lena Sobel and Matilda Drakvingen guide you through mentorship. The purpose with this material is to support mentorship programs or individual mentors and mentees at KI. I this film, we listen to a fictive example of a dialogue between mentor and mentee.

Film 3

Work material

Mentorship tools

Here, we describe some tools that can be used in mentorship. This is just a small selection and you can surely come up with more suggestions. 

  • The question
  • Listening actively (to understand) 
  • Note taking
  • Reflections
  • Diary
  • Contract/agreement
  • Follow the interests
  • Scales
  • Perspectives

The question

The mentor helps the mentee to find his or her answers by asking questions. The question should be open, exploratory, interested, non-leading, and not rhetorical. What does that mean? An open question cannot be answered with a “yes” or “no”. For example, consider “Have you asked Kalle?”. This question is both closed and leading. Instead, you can ask “Who needs to know about this?”.

Open-ended questions begin with:

  • When
  • Where
  • How
  • Who
  • What
  • Which
  • (Why)

“Why” is in parentheses because it can easily be perceived as implying doubt. As you probably know, a leading question is a question that guides the focus person in a particular direction, or towards one of the questioner’s predetermined answers. It is not really a question, but rather a suggestion in disguise. In our experience, avoiding leading questions and asking purely open-ended questions is the most greatest challenge for participants practicing leadership coaching dialogues.

Reflect: What are your questions like?

Listen actively (to understand)

This means listening to what is being said, and not said, as well as what is expressed with both the body and tone of voice. To be able to do this, you need to be completely focused on the person to whom you are listening and set aside your own thoughts. Also resist thinking about your next question. That you can do when the mentee has finished talking. When you have listened actively and are interested, the next question often comes naturally.

Surveys show that many people stop to listen when the speaker is about halfway through. At that point, the listener believes that he or she has understood the situation and has, thus,  started to formulate an answer or question. Other studies indicate that the pressures that many people experience in working life have led managers to often settle for seeming to listen. The other person notices this, and of course that habit needs to be trained away.

Reflect: How is your listening?

Note taking

It is good to make notes during the dialogue. If you prefer to make notes afterwards, be careful to document what has been said and promised. It is also often useful to record thoughts, ideas and events between meetings. Both as input for the next dialogue and because the reflections are often extremely valuable.

Reflections

When things change, in times of great uncertainty, and when we learn new things, it is important to reflect. To think back to the situation, the day or week etc. and think about what happened and lessons learned. Reflection ascribes meaning to experiences and is a process that creates new knowledge about yourself and/or the situation. A few minutes at the beginning and end of the day may be enough. Our experience tells us that most people are not very good at this. Take the opportunity to reflect with your mentee or mentor! 

Diary

For some people, it is helpful to keep diary. Write down a short summary of what you have done during the day, especially things involving overcoming problems and finding solutions. Discuss this in your mentorship meetings.

Contract/agreement

Making an agreement is absolutely necessary. Such a document can take many forms, but it should always contain a promise of confidentiality. Personal confidences shared between the mentee and mentor stay between the two of them. For the rest of their lives. Also once the mentorship has ended. This is absolutely crucial for creating trustful conversations.

It is also useful to write down your goals and expectations of the mentorship and of each other and occasionally refer back to them and ask each other how things are going and if any revisions are needed.

Reflect: What do you want to include in your agreement?

Follow the interests

"What should we talk about?”, “How do I know which questions to ask?” and “What should I focus on?” are questions normally asked by mentors. Our answer is usually: "Follow the interests!" That is, what is important and interesting to the mentee. The mentor does not need to know much about it, but merely to help the mentee to understand him- or herself and the situation itself.

For example, you can ask the mentee about his or her interests: "We have arrived at A, B and C. Which of them do you think is the most interesting to start with?"We have found that it is often more rewarding to ask that question than “Which one do you think is best to start with?”. Instead, this question can spark thoughts about what the mentee should do, what is logical, and what others think rather than what it is like for the mentee. Following interests can also involve noting emphasised words, a change in face colour or dialogue pace, or anything else that indicates that the subject interests the mentee.

Scales

"Motivation", "interests", "difficulty" and so on can be abstract concepts. It can help to ask: “You wanted to feel more motivation and joy. How happy do you feel now, on a scale of 1-10? How motivated are you? Where do you want your motivation or joy to be on that scale?” This idea came from the healthcare system, which wanted to help patients use a personal scale for their pain.

Follow-up questions could be: 

  • What makes it a 4 and not an 8, which is what you want it to be?
  • What can you do to get it to an 8?
  • How are you going to get there?
  • When?

Reflect: How motivated are you in your role as mentee/mentor, on a scale of 1 – 10? What would make it a 10?

Perspectives

Sometimes it is effective to look at the situation, problem, possibility or topic from a different perspective. Especially if the mentee gets “stuck”. The perspective can be framed around time, person, space, or size, with questions like:

  • What if the situation were easy? (different outlook)
  • If you were a creature from another planet, what would you notice? (different outlook)
  • Next year, when the situation is resolved and you look back at today, what will you notice? Or what did you do to get there? (time)
  • If you could not prepare, what would you do? (time)
  • What if this were to happen somewhere else? (space)
  • If you were Einstein (or another person), what would you do? (person)
  • So you are worried about something for which you have no control?
  • I think a lot of people would find it hard to do what you just managed to do

Suggested topics

Sometimes the conversation needs a little help on the way. Perhaps could some of the below topics be interesting?

  • Everyday life, work and life in general
  • If you could change one thing inyour life that would significantly improve it, what would that be?
  • Current work situation, pluses and minuses
  • My next job
  • Where I want to be in x years
  • What works well today, and why
  • My organisation
  • My group
  • Me (strengths, weaknesses, development)
  • How does the management team work?
  • Leadership, what is it? What characterises a good leader?
  • Events that have made me who I am and that have been important to me

Things to do

  • Visit each other’s workplaces
  • Take each other to something interesting (e.g. a lecture) and listen to his or her feedback
  • Read the same book and discuss it
  • Watch the same TED talk and discuss it
  • Get feedback on texts you have written
  • “Walk and talks" 
  • Lunch is also a good option, but have your mentorship conversation before or after and not during lunch

Reflect: What else can you do together?