One key challenge to building a successful mentor relationship is having a successful communication strategy. A mentor relationship is not going to grow and develop if neither the mentor nor protégée are not communicating and connecting on a regular basis. Communication challenges are often exacerbated by generational differences in communication.
Many of the protégées in our program prefer to use e-mail as their primary method of communication. In fact, fewer and fewer people even have a home telephone. If all you have is a cell phone and you are worried about how many minutes per month you are using it, you are less likely to think of your phone as a primary communication method and certainly not as likely to give your phone number to a wide range of people.
Many mentors, on the other hand, prefer phone as a primary communication method. Certainly, e-mail use is continuing to increase but mentors who prefer the phone or face-to-face or less likely to offer a detailed response to an e-mail.
An additional problem with using e-mail as a primary communication tool is the sheer volume of e-mail that gets transacted during the business day for both mentors and protégées. It is easy to lose track of an e-mail that at first read was prioritized as something to deal with later. Further, businesses are becoming more and more restrictive in how they filter out potential spam. Sometimes a mentor needs to authorize receipt of e-mails from a particular domain before it will even appear in the inbox.
All of this can lead to delayed or missed communication between mentors and protégés. Communication concerns between protégés and mentors are one of the key problems I am asked to help students resolve.
So what are some helpful strategies for overcoming communication challenges? First, pick up the telephone. If you are not getting a response to your e-mail it may be because either your mentor is not proficient at managing the e-mail volume he or she receives every day, or, more likely, for some reason your e-mails are not even go through picking up the phone is a great way to resolve that issue. Give your mentor a call and set up your next meeting on the telephone. When you get your mentor on the phone be sure to confirm whether your mentor is in fact receiving your e-mails. If your mentor is not receiving your e-mails find out what steps need to be taken so they go through.
Next, never underestimate the power of your mentor’s support staff. If you are having trouble connecting with your mentor via e-mail or telephone contact the main receptionist at your mentor’s place of employment and ask to speak with your mentor’s administrative assistant. When you get the administrative assistant ask to schedule a specific time for a telephone conference with your mentor. That ensures an end to the game of phone tag by guaranteeing that your mentor is expecting you to call and at his or her telephone to make the connection. With your mentor’s permission you may also consider to ask his or her administrative association for a preview of upcoming events on your mentor’s calendar. That way when the telephone conference occurs you can identify some upcoming things you would like to do with your mentor eliminating some of the back and forth when trying to schedule.
Finally, if you are still having trouble establishing good communication lines with your mentor take advantage of the administrative support that a formal program like ours as to offer. A successful formal mentor program is like a three legged stool. The administration of the mentor program is the third leg of the stool and is there to help.