Social Distancing Doesn’t Have to Disrupt Mentorship

by David G. Smith and W. Brad Johnson

The current pandemic has many more people teleworking and adapting business to the virtual environment. While continuing to lead direct reports and collaborate with customers remain business imperatives in the new “workplace,” don’t forget your mentees. Great mentors show up and engage with mentees in crises and uncertain times, even when that requires creativity and adaptation. There are several reasons not to let your commitments slide.

Communicate with your mentees, but don’t assume you understand their situations. Everyone is already experiencing plenty of uncertainty and new demands. Let your mentoring be something mentees can depend on without any pressure to reciprocate. Reach out, ask how they are faring, learn about their unique circumstances and stressors, and if they are amenable, find time for a phone call or a video meeting, even if only for a few minutes.

Make adjustments to established norms. If a mentee is eager to continue with tele-mentoring, figure out a new rhythm and the best medium for meeting in the online environment, which may require changes to previous routines. You might need to work around childcare, eldercare, or other commitments your mentee is responsible for in this new environment.

Be authentic, and welcome reciprocity. If you have children at home because schools are closed, or if you are occupying your pet’s favorite spot in the house while you telework, don’t hide those personal challenges. Use them to “keep it real” and to develop a friendly connection with your mentees. Sharing your situation makes it more comfortable for mentees to share theirs. And don’t miss the opportunity for a good laugh if kids or pets integrate themselves into a meeting!

Show care and compassion. Test your listening skills, and focus on your mentee’s concerns. Financial, health, job, and family matters are all likely to be pressing issues. Demonstrate that you hear and understand; in that way, you can help validate and normalize mentees’ emotions and experiences.

Address concerns through coping and mastery skills. Remember: You don’t need to rescue or fix anything for your mentees. Instead, offer support that will enable them to overcome challenges on their own. Provide strategies, skills, and resources that they can use to learn and to grow their efficacy.

Although social distancing is necessary during the pandemic, it doesn’t mean you can’t maintain close emotional and relational proximity with your mentees. Use this moment in time to explore new ways of staying connected, show that you care, validate feelings of distress, develop talent, and challenge yourself to get out of your mentoring comfort zone.

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