5.1 Communication skills

The way in which you communicate with your mentees is fundamental to your mentoring relationship.

You may already have well-honed communication skills developed through life experiences including your work roles – but if you haven’t thought recently about the factors that make for good communication, now is the time to review them.

Activity 5.1

Figure 2 An effective mentoring relationship © Image source/Alamy Stock Photo

Consider the image shown above – what messages do you feel are being presented by the mentor (the person on the left) and mentee (the person on the right) in this case?

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In this situation, the mentor is leaning forward, a gesture that can be interpreted as being aggressive and invasive. Annoyance is something that is also perhaps suggested in the way the mentor is grasping the desk.

The mentee has his head turned away from the mentor, giving the impression that he is taking little interest in what is being said. The gesture here is something that might be seen to be arrogant and disrespectful.

With no eye-contact taking place here, there seems to be little connection between these two people.

Verbal and non-verbal communication

Effective communication involves both verbal and non-verbal skills.

Research into the importance of non-verbal communication suggests that 7% of any message is conveyed through words, 38% through certain vocal elements (the speed, pitch and rhythm at which we speak, for example), and 55% through non-verbal elements (facial expressions, gestures, posture, etc.)

As such, although we perhaps have a tendency to focus on what it is that we’re actually going to say, it should be remembered that both how we vocalise this and the way in which our overall behaviour supports the conversation is the key to getting our message across and helping to put people at ease.

Now, watch this short video from YouTube, created by About.com, for a brief overview of the various aspects of non-verbal communication:

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https://www.youtube.com/ watch?v=csaYYpXBCZg&t=23s [Tip: hold Ctrl and click a link to open it in a new tab. (Hide tip)]

Activity 5.2

Although you may at first feel very self-conscious about doing this, take some time to practice a range of positive non-verbal communication gestures in front of the mirror to see what feels natural to you and helps you to communicate a positive message.

Key non-verbal communication mistakes you should try and avoid in face-to-face communication with your mentees include:

  • A distrusting attitude that can be signalled if someone sits with their legs crossed towards you, while a willingness to trust can be signalled if the crossed leg is away from you.
  • Annoyance can be highlighted by a tense body posture, clenched fists or clasped hands, tightly folded arms, foot tapping and finger pointing.
  • Nervousness can be signalled by downcast eyes, hand over the mouth or frequently touching the face or fidgeting.
  • Boredom can be signalled by pulling at an ear, stifled yawning or gazing around the room.

In addition to thinking about your own non-verbal communication, having an awareness of this area is something that can also help you in reading the mood and emotions of your mentee during a conversation – sometimes the things that mentees aren’t verbally telling us are just as important as the things they are.

Activity 5.3

Each of the following apprentices are waiting for their first meetings with their new mentor – what do you think their body language tells us about the way they are feeling about this?

Figure 3 Apprentices awaiting their mentoring meeting © baranq/shutterstock.com


Mentee number one appears to be quite nervous – she has an anxious look on her face and appears to be tightly clutching the file she is holding.

Mentee number two appears to be more relaxed – his arms and legs are in comfortable positions and he is not displaying any evidence of tension. If anything, the expression on this person’s face gives the impression of someone who is a little too relaxed or unfocused.

Mentee number three is sitting in a way that perhaps looks a little unnaturally upright, something that suggests there is some tension here.

Mentee number four is also adapting an upright pose, but this is something that looks to be more comfortable. This person is presenting the impression of someone who is calm, confident and in control.

Mentee number five is looking down and has quite an intense look on his face. He gives the impression of someone who is a little nervous and trying to compose his thoughts.

Being aware of and deliberately using your non-verbal communication skills can make your relationship with your mentee much more rewarding for them and less stressful for you.

Mentors who understand the impact of non-verbal communication on their mentee’s emotions and deliberately employ strategies that encourage interaction are taking a key step in looking to create a positive environment of two-way communication.

5. Useful mentoring skills

5.2 Listening skills