Last week, a mentor called me and asked for my advice on how to help a mentoree explore the goal of having people take him more seriously. This goal appears vague and somewhat hard to address. During the course of the call, we shared a few thoughts and ideas and I would like to share those with you in the event you are faced with similar areas of professional development.
I should state upfront that I believe any statement like "I'd like to work on people taking me more seriously" can be achieved by exploring it more deeply before embarking on a plan to flush out in what areas is the mentoree not being taken seriously.
Mentoree should cite a specific incident
1. I first suggested that at the next mentoring session, the mentor ask the mentoree to cite a specific instance where they felt not taken seriously. This will involve a conversation or presentation with someone or in a group. I would ask the mentoree to state what she/he said and what the response was during the entire conversation. As a mentor, I would try to identify key themes or key words used and whether there is a pattern. Key themes might be to observe the mentoree's voice, body language, how forceful the mentoree is in the presentation, does the mentoree give up easily when pushed back, etc. Key words might be: the pronouns “me” or “I” used too frequently, words that might turn off others: we must do this, we should do this, etc. Is what the mentoree advocating too thin a suggestion? This information gives a mentor data in which to be able to provide feedback and suggestions on what the mentoree could have done differently to get a different result. It would be instructive to go over several conversations the mentoree has had to see if there is a pattern to why she/he feels not taken seriously.
Role-Playing and mentoring
2. The second option—which can be done separately or added to the point above—is to role-play the scenario with the mentoree to get a good sense of the emotional component of the dialogue. For example, if I did the technique in #1, I might then add, "Now let's role play this same scenario where I will play the other person and see what happens." In role-playing you are trying to replicate not only the conversation but also the emotions attached to that conversation; therefore, it is important for both partners to engage so that they really feel in that scenario. At the end, you should have the mentoree discuss how they felt in engaging in this dialogue, what they think they said/did that was helpful and what they think they said/did that was not. The mentor should then provide the same feedback on what it felt like to be the other person in this scenario.
If you don't do # 1 above, you can simply use the same technique by asking the mentoree that you would like to role play a given presentation that s/he is about to conduct or use a scenario from the past and follow option #2.
A note on role playing: I know that most of us feel somewhat uncomfortable in role playing but it is a very powerful technique that can generate very useful information and bring about change. Don't be afraid to try it. You need not be perfect at it—just make the effort and see what happens. I think you'll be pleasantly surprised.