The phrase “Social Distancing” has occupied our vocabulary for almost a year now and has forever changed the way we develop and sustain professional relationships.
Maintaining professional connection may have understandably not been at the top of our “to do” list these last 11 months. Yet as we continue to navigate our new “distant” world, it is important to remember the imperative psychosocial functions of mentoring. As human beings, we can and must remain socially connected – even in times of pandemic. And as a community of lawyers, we can and must remain professionally connected even when we are physically apart.
In these uncertain times when every member of our community is impacted by this ever evolving crisis, this is in fact a wonderful and opportune time to discover, reconnect, and expand the professional relationships that provide our critical psychosocial growth.
A mentor exists to serve two main functions: career function and psychosocial function.
In the career function, the mentor helps a mentee to learn the ropes of the profession and prepare for career advancement. In the psychosocial function, the mentor provides a mentee with friendship, unconditional acceptance and confirmation, counseling, and role-modeling.
While both functions are essential to a meaningful and successful mentoring relationship, it is the psychosocial function that is essential in promoting the mentee's competence, self-efficacy, and overall development as a professional. Additionally, the psychosocial function of mentoring has been demonstrated to be effective in enhancing persistence of the mentee during the adverse times and promote career resilience.
Are you wondering how to be a psychosocial mentor during these complex times?
1. Be an Active Listener:
• Focus on what the mentee is saying to summarize what was said, in a way that they would agree with
• Provide uninterrupted time to meet with your mentee
• Allow mentee the time to explain situations completely before offering advice
• Be alert to nonverbal clues
2. Be a Cheerleader:
• Provide enthusiastic support for your mentee's efforts
• Reinforce belief in positive potential for your mentee to grow beyond the current situation
• Celebrate the successes of your mentee
3. Be a Compassionate Supporter:
• Recognize your mentee as an individual with a unique lived experience and value them as a person
• Listen to your mentee's career concerns and respond appropriately
• Act as an empathetic sounding board for ideas and concerns expressed by your mentee
• Establish an environment for open interaction and reflection
• Offer non-judgmental and sensitive responses to assist in clarification of emotional states
• Be sensitive to issues of inequity and discrimination of any type
• Pay attention to your mentee's need for direction, refocus, change, and respite
4. Be a Good Role Model:
• Demonstrate successful professional behavior (lead by example)
• Teach the values of integrity, professionalism, and civility
• Be secure in your own professional status and do not be threatened by your mentee's
• Do not betray confidences
• Show respect for all views, even for those with which you disagree
• Provide example of how to treat others
• Do not be afraid to admit your own ignorance
• Follow through on commitments
5. Be a Work/Life Integration Coach:
• Help your mentee plan strategies to achieve mutually agreed upon goals
• Help your mentee evaluate appropriateness of career options in relation to personal values
• Connect your mentee with other mentors as needed
• Identify well-being resources to help your mentee
6. Be a Constructive Feedback Provider:
• Use careful probing to assess readiness of your mentee to accept and benefit from different points of view
• Provide descriptive feedback based on observations rather than inferences
• Focus on the most likely strategies and behaviors for meaningful change
• Avoid owning and solving your mentee's problems
• Accept reciprocal feedback from your mentee
• Confront and clarify assumptions, perceptions, and issues
• Do not condemn mistakes, take credit for successes, threaten or lose critical oversight
The psychology of mentoring is not an expectation of the mentor to be able to break down a mentee’s exact problems and learn how to solve them using a series of psychological tricks, but to encourage them to change their way of thinking and build a new structure for success.
Although physical distancing is still necessary, it doesn’t mean you can’t maintain close emotional and relational proximity with your mentoring partner. Use this moment in time to explore new ways of staying connected, show that you care, validate feelings of distress, develop talent, and challenge yourself to get out of your mentoring comfort zone.