Amanda L. Dreher, Esq.
Distance mentoring, or mentoring without consistent face-to-face meetings, is becoming an increasingly important strategy for matching mentors and mentees. Rather than limiting the matching options to the individuals in close geographical proximity, companies are now expanding the mentoring match possibilities world- wide to find the best possible mentor and mentee matches. With the development of technology, we can access relationships and learning in ways that until recently were not possible.
Distance mentoring has a number of benefits. Consider the following:
•Opens up new pairing opportunities: If proximity isn’t necessary, mentoring participants are no longer limited in pairing options.
•Lessons restrictions of location and time: Being able to use electronic media for mentoring interactions opens up locations and times that would not be available if the interaction was always face to face. If you are located in different states or countries, if you travel, or work odd hours, you can still consistently communicate with your mentoring partner.
•Allows for more thought on interactions: Since communication does not have to be real time, there are opportunities to be thoughtful about your reactions and input. You can say things the way you want, with thought and consideration.
Understanding and addressing the challenges of distance mentoring will add to its success. Address these early:
•Building trust: Without all the non-verbal cues that can be informational in face-to-face meetings, it is more challenging to establish trust. To address this, be extra conscious of communication, be authentic and honest, and avoid any trust-busters. Ask and listen. Give the benefit of the doubt.
•Keeping momentum: As the old adage goes, “out of sight, out of mind.” Momentum can be difficult to maintain at a distance. Make sure you have scheduled out all your interactions and electronic meetings for the duration of the pairing commitment. Remember to celebrate successes along the way. Address frustrations and challenges quickly so they do not slow down progress. Try to vary your meeting agenda so meetings don’t become too predictable. Remember to continue to build your relationship by sharing stories.
•Promoting communication: When communication is limited to electronic interactions, clear misunderstandings can crop up. Avoid making assumptions on written communication. Assume the best and if something does not seem right address it quickly. Verify your communication and make sure what you meant to say is what your mentoring partner understood (and that you understand the meaning behind what is communicated to you).
Before you attempt distance mentoring, there are several practical ideas that will help you put this strategy into practice.
•Check yourself: Consider your beliefs and feelings about this strategy. If you’re stalling, you may need to make a paradigm shift in your thoughts and emotions. Choose to recognize distance mentoring as a viable strategy, build enthusiasm for it, and find ways to maximize its advantages and reduce its barriers.
•Set expectations: Agree on a regular meeting time, put it on your calendar and keep your commitments. Create structure that works. Discuss early what structure your interactions should take. Adjust as necessary.
Discuss items like:
- what ways you will communicate
- how often you will communicate
- expectations for confidentiality
- how you will give encouragement
- how you will give feedback
- what the objectives for the relationship are
•Communicate, communicate, communicate: Communication is critical and may become a stumbling block for those who enter this new challenge without intentionality. Black and white written words, such as those in email, text, and LMS systems, carry the color of your perceptions. Therefore, your communication may not be received with its exact intended meaning. We have to err on the side of “over communication.” When possible use real time communication.
•Cultivate trust early: Be intentional about working to build trust. It is difficult for learning to occur if the mentee and mentor do not feel the mentoring relationship is a safe place to discuss, to learn and to grow.
To build trust:
- meet more often at the beginning
- use visual interaction whenever possible (e.g. facetime, video conference, SKYPE)
- send appropriate pictures
- tell stories
- be authentic and vulnerable
- listen without agenda
- encourage whenever you can
•Take on a learning stance: Instead of assuming things about your mentee/mentor, show genuine curiosity about your mentoring partner. Ask open-ended questions and really listen to the response. Strive for understanding.
•Discuss cultural differences: If there are cultural differences, discuss them up front. Recognize and celebrate differences. Also, work to find touchpoints. Connect on your similarities and learn from your differences.
Make the ABCs of distance mentoring work for you and open up a world of possibilities.