“It was impossible to get a conversation going.
Everyone was talking too much.”
#Mentor, does your mentee invade your space? Maybe want to be a little too close?
Yesterday my friend was talking to me about “close talkers.” You know who they are – the ones who talk excitedly about six inches from your face, laughing, speaking loudly with sweeping gestures. (Unfortunately, you are forced to experience the cheese and onion enchilada they had for dinner the night before. Too Close!)
What’s your first reaction to this person? I’m guessing it’s taking a jumbo step backwards . . . and quickly!
Sometimes a mentee might do the conversational equivalent of that in your mentoring relationship. They might not be quite as off putting as the “close talker” who invades your physical space, but they might press for a “too bonding” relationship by going too deep, too fast.
My initial conversation with a potential mentee, Hannah, started out with all the signs of heading down the “Too Much Information (TMI!)” path right from the get-go . . .
Hannah: Lori, I’ve heard some great things about you. I hope you and I can become really close, and you can mentor me for a long time. I’m dying to know so many things about you.
Lori: Good, Hannah. First we need to get to know some basics about each other. Let’s start with where your career journey has take you thus far.
Hannah: Well, first off, I’ve recently had the most heinous boss you can imagine. Physically, he’s a piece of work. He wheezes when he talks and continually decorates his shirt with whatever he had for lunch that day. He needs to carry some Tide® spray cleaner in his pocket, big time.
Lori: I’m thinking more about what assignments you’ve had, Hannah. Tell me more about that for now. And let’s keep it respectful about past and current bosses, agree?
Hannah: Oh, sorry, that might have been a bad start. I’ll tell you about my family because that relates to my work life. My husband – well, generally a dreamboat but has an enormous issue with the remote control. It’s like it’s a part of his arm! I get so mad when he watches so much television, so I take it out on my kids and yell at them. Then they go to their rooms and slam the door. I guess that’s a typical evening at our house.
Lori: Let’s take one more swing at your past assignments, Hannah. What job have you had recently that called out the best in you?
Hannah: I can’t think of one right off the top of my head. What about you, Lori? Does your husband watch too much TV?
Okay, it might not have been that bad with Hannah, but it’s not far from what happened!
The result? I did not continue on with a mentoring relationship with Hannah. There was too much ground to plough with regard to setting boundaries and keeping the “TMI” factor from tipping over the edge.
I’ve had other mentees, though, who have had a tendency towards over-sharing that I was able to redirect so that our conversations became engaging and meaningful for both of us.
Here’s great news for you, Mentor!
YOU are in charge of the level of sharing in your relationship . . . and that means both the timing and the content.
Here are some tips to keep the level and timing of sharing with your mentee so that it is:
1. Mentor, you are the conversational guide and the barometer as to what is shared. If the mentee broaches a topic that you are not comfortable with, e.g. “Why did the CFO step down from her job? What’s really going on there?” then you redirect. You can answer, “I don’t know all of the ins and outs of her decision, but I think it was a good move for her and the company. Let’s talk about what are some good near term moves for you.”
2. Start you relationship with a discussion of “open season” and “closed season” topics. Open season might be career events, disappointments, successes. Closed season might be the real scoop on why the CFO did step down or other political musings.
3. You share appropriately, both your successes and failures, so that your mentee can see that you are a transparent and confident rock-solid professional.
Your mentoring relationship never has to be “Too Bonding.” You can guide it in an appropriate and growth-producing way.