Communicating in Style: Corporate Mentoring Tips

Most of us use different styles of communication. We'll communicate differently with our kids than we would with our employers. Often, our communication style depends upon the situation itself--what style will work best under these circumstances? The same holds true in mentoring relationships. Understanding different communication styles (and when to use them) will make for a more effective and enjoyable relationship. Below, we address four styles--what they are, when to use them, and things to keep in mind.

1.  DIRECTED STYLE: "I have expertise in this area and will give you what you need to know to be successful."

The Directed Style is most effective at the start of the mentoring relationship when both the mentoree and the relationship itself require strong direction. It's also useful and appropriate to use whenever the mentoree ventures into a new area of accomplishment. In the Directed Style, communication tends to be one sided, with the mentor "directing" the mentoree by doing one or more of the following:

  • sharing personal experience
  • prescribing a method for success
  • accessing other resources for the mentoree
  • providing a step-by-step approach

A WORD OF CAUTION:

Mentors who overuse this style will tend to dominate the conversation and stifle the mentoree's participation. Likewise, mentorees who overly prefer this style may develop a dependency on the mentor and avoid taking risks.

2.  CO-DIRECTED STYLE: "I have the most expertise in this area, and you may have some as well, but you still need my guidance to further develop your competency in this area."

The Co-Directed Style is more of a dialogue, with the mentor still dominating the exchange of information but allowing for questions and input from the mentoree. The mentor uses more persuasion and reasoning than direction but is still the dominant presence in the relationship.

If the relationship is dominated too long by this style, conflict could occur as the mentoree attempts to assume a more active role in the relationship. Use the Co-Directed Style when the mentoree has some experience or knowledge of the issue or when the mentoree is at a point to take some developmental risks and can benefit from guidance.

A WORD OF CAUTION:

Mentors who are overly persuasive may curtail the mentoree's development toward independent thinking. Likewise, mentorees who overly prefer this style may avoid contradicting the mentor and thus not engage in honest dialogue that would lead to greater independence.

3.  CONSULTING STYLE: "Let's work on this together and come to joint solutions since two heads are better than one and since we both have expertise in this area."

The Consulting Style is most effective when the mentoree has achieved knowledge/expertise in the focus area. As the mentoree becomes more independent, the partnership becomes more of a dialogue between peers, reflected by a strong sense of collaboration and consensus building. The prime mover in the discussion switches back and forth between the mentor and the mentoree. Once the teacher and guiding force in the relationship, the mentor's primary role now is to encourage and support the mentoree.

A WORD OF CAUTION:

Mentors may be too eager to use this style prior to the mentoree being ready. This is especially true in an environment that fosters team building. Likewise, mentorees may expect to begin here and therefore resist assuming a more passive role warranted by a lack of experience in the area at hand.

SELF-DIRECTED STYLE: "You have the ability to do this; I'm here if you need me."

The Self-Directed Style is most appropriate in the latter stages of the mentoring relationship when the mentoree has gained sufficient knowledge and mastery of the subject. Moving to this style is a key indicator that the mentoring relationship has achieved its purpose and the mentoree is ready to move on to another area of mastery or that it's time to end the relationship.

A WORD OF CAUTION:

Mentors may move too early or quickly to this style, expecting all initiative to come from the mentorees. Likewise, mentorees may already believe they're at this point and disregard the mentors' input.

The more aware you are of where you're at in the relationship and what communication style is best, the more effective your mentorship will be.

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