An important part of conversation and communication in general is the need to ask questions. This is a way to show the other person that you listen and that you care. The asking enables you to go deeper.
There is so much small talk in daily life. It is essential but not sufficient. How long can you talk about the sports scores or the weather? Deeper questions allow us to form deeper relationships and engage in life-long learning.
It is important to ask open-ended questions; those are ones that don’t have simple yes/no answers. Here are some examples of deep, open-ended questions. They are from the book, Coaching Questions: A Coach’s Guide to Powerful Asking Skills by Tony Stoltzfus.
- If you could invest the rest of your life and know you could change one thing in the world around you, what would it be? What led you to choose that?
- If you had unlimited resources and couldn’t fail, what would you set out to do?
- What are your most outstanding personality traits?
- Of all the roles you’ve been in, which ones were the best fit? Why?
- If you had a year to live, what would be most important to you to do and be in that time?”
- What makes your heart sing?
Asking questions is a sign of respect. If done well, the other person feels valued and the relationship grows. Try finding some new questions to routinely ask others instead of “what do you do for a living”.
When writing on the topic of mentoring I am usually focused on its importance in helping other people. This blog focuses on what it can do for each of us…not to be selfish but to embrace that service is a two-way street. It is one of those foundational, but higher-level, life skills that we can use every day in any relationship.
To be a good mentor, you must learn essential life skills:
- Active listening and asking powerful open-ended questions.
- Empathy, putting yourself in another’s situation.
- Encouragement, leading to persistence and resilience.
- Affirmations, helping another see something good in themselves.
- Visioning, seeing and planning a bold future.
- Goal setting and action planning, getting something important done every day.
Mentors see life as a process of development. It starts with an orientation toward serving and supporting someone else. It emerges from an emotion of care or love. If you are a mentor then you have a “heart to serve”. I’m sure you want to be good at it. Try going deeper and thinking of it as an accumulation of skills, each of which is important in its own way. Once you learn them you can apply them in everyday situations toward those you care about.
Mentoring is about inspiration, care and support of another but it transforms us too at many levels…heart, mind, body and soul. It is a skill worth mastering to improve our own capacity for purpose and knowing ourselves deeply. Consider taking on a formal mentoring role because “we grow as we serve”.
I drove by a billboard for a local college the other day with the headline Define Yourself. It got me thinking.
Define yourself is about who you want to be. There is no doubt that we live in a world of image and branding — personal and product. Some might call this our social self. I do this myself. I recall an early retirement activity to design a personal business card: a title, logo and phrase that helped form an identity.
We choose to be different people in different circumstances, e.g. we might choose a more assertive behavior at work than at home, or with a salesperson rather than a family member. We choose to become what our various roles require; personal growth forces us to move beyond our comfort zone. My concern is that we can lose ourselves and when we do fundamental stresses emerges.
Know yourself is about who you are at your core. This includes strengths, values, beliefs, and desires. Some might call this our true self or our soul. I believe that knowing yourself is the more powerful and essential context. Consistency across defining and knowing leads to joy, energy and potential. Our values must be operative in all situations to thrive.
The path to Purpose starts with knowing yourself deeply. I hope the identity you choose for any given role recognizes and includes this deeper level. It is worth the introspection to create this alignment.
Purposeful mentoring requires the development of caring yet influential relationships. The influential part is about creating a receptivity on the part of the mentee to listen and adopt a growth attitude not about pushing your viewpoint. This only occurs when a foundation of care, trust and respect is built. We cannot change others, we can only change ourselves.
Here are some skills mentors need to establish these relationships.
- Ask Good Open-Ended Questions. Closed questions end with a “yes or no”. Open-ended questions, especially tough ones, require deeper thought and provide the opportunity to explore points-of-view.
- Listen Actively. The listener makes sure the talker knows that the words AND meaning of the words are clear. The conversation is two-way and has some balance.
- Affirm. Find ways to say insightful, positive things and say these much more frequently (10:1) than offering criticism. This allows the mentee to truly see the good and worth in themselves.
- Constructive Criticism. The word “constructive” is key in that there must be a pathway to see how to do something differently.
- Role Model. Let the mentee see values in action. “Do as I do not just as I say.”
- Be Available. Show up as planned with a frequency that works for both and be fully “in the moment” when together.
While my thoughts have been directed on how a mentor influences a mentee, remember that relationships are two-way. It’s a matter of choice and attitude to personally learn too. Be flexible.
My simple premise is that purposeful interactions should occur every day. This suggests some ways to pursue it. I’m using the framework of my Live with Purpose Roadmap. The “words, behaviors and questions” are possibilities for your everyday conversations with family, friends and employees (who become informal mentees).
Know Yourself Deeply
- Words: Strengths, values, beliefs, desires/needs, roles, fulfilled.
- Behaviors: Ask open-ended probing questions. Provide affirmations on observed personal qualities. Listen quietly.
- Questions: How does God guide your life? What are your core values? What are your uncommon talents? What activity gives you the most energy? What beliefs are getting in your way?
Develop a Life Plan
- Words: Purpose, vision, mission, goals, career plan, budget.
- Behaviors: Follow-up on the “know yourself” conversations. Ask if written purpose/goals can be explored.
- Questions: Do you have a life plan? What are your goals; are they written? How do your goals link to your purpose? What does your ideal life look like? What would make today a great day?
Live to Your Potential
- Words: Time, energy, discipline, rhythm, structure, plans, action, results, thriving.
- Behaviors: Encouragement. Follow-up on a declared commitment. Ask about the action plan to accomplish a goal.
- Questions: How do you use your strengths and uncommon talents? Did you do one important thing today to meet your goals? Are you thriving? Are you living intentionally?
Are you ready to move beyond small talk to the deeper conversations? Which everyday relationships are ready to move to this level?
Some people use the word “mentor” as part of formal life roles. For example, a senior manager mentors someone with the intent to help a younger employee “be successful” or a volunteer mentors a teen through a social service organization.
These are great formal roles but I want to push the idea that we can all mentor everyday. Here are some examples:
- Parents. A mom helps her daughter come to grips with a value conflict.
- Friends. A friend encourages another to pursue a goal that is known to be a long-time dream.
- Siblings. A brother helps a younger brother see a personal strength and in so doing breaks a mental barrier to start a business.
- Managers. Your boss asks you to take on a developmental assignment that uncovers a special hidden talent.
- Teachers. A teacher inspires a love of learning.
The words I’ve underlined are part of the language of purpose.
This short-term and situational mentoring is a mindset choice, a choice to live purposefully and intentionally in this moment…and help others do so. We mentor when we move from small talk and personal updates to the deeper topics. Seek to add value and meaning to someone’s life. Help someone “know him or herself deeply” and “live to their potential”.
We limit our interactions by our beliefs and personal boundaries and by resisting a move beyond our comfort zones. I don’t think there are limits to the positive influence we can have on the people around us. Can you make that choice?
If you follow me via the Life Solutions Network Newsletter, you might recall that I shared a Live with Purpose Roadmap. Purposeful mentoring is framed by three themes, all of which have been regular blog topics:
Purposeful mentoring is the simple inclusion of these topics in our day-to day conversation as well as in a formal role (which is even better). These topics require critical life skills and behaviors, for example:
- Asking open-ended questions such as “what personal values helped you make that difficult decision”?
- Using active listening to support someone with empathy.
- Sharing a special book or internet article to prompt critical thinking.
- Suggesting the development of a personal vision, career plan or long-term budget.
- Sending a personal note of encouragement and support.
- Using language of hope and encouragement….Zapping, not Sapping.
Yes, purposeful mentoring might be expected in a formal role but the power of parents, friends, siblings and managers has the advantage of special (influential) relationships. I am not discouraging the formal roles. It works best in a long-term formal mentoring role because of the amount of time that is dedicated and that training and support is offered. Instead, I dream to make it more common. We should encourage the “deeper conversations” in everyday life and leverage teachable moments.