How to win friends and influence mentees

by Jean Rhodes

Nearly 80 years after its publication, Dale Carnegie’s How to Win Friends and Influence People remains one of the best-selling books of all time (30 million copies!). This led me to wonder whether some of the interpersonal skills that Carnegie highlights might be helpful to the millions of mentors working with today’s youth? The answer is an emphatic yes. The book is treasure trove of common sense tips and wisdom for mentors, parents, staff, and basically all of us–e.g., be a good listener, show genuine interest, quickly admit faults, convey appreciation. Although the need for evidence-based training remains, the principles in this book are a valuable supplement. I recommend reading through the short book, but in case you’re pressed for time, I have tweaked from the a few blogs on the book, e.g., and applied its principles to youth mentoring.

Chapter 1: Don’t criticize your mentee

  • Criticism, no matter how well intentioned, will undermine your mentee’s sense of self-worth and put him or her on the defense. Instead of judging, try to understand the motives behind your mentee’s actions.

Chapter 2: Give your mentee honest and sincere appreciation 

  • Our deepest desire is to be appreciated so show genuine appreciation–not through flattery but through praise of specific behaviors and attributes.

Chapter 3: Inspire in your mentee an eagerness to achieve

  • The best way to motivate your mentee is to think about things from their perspective. Once you understand where they are coming from you will understand what motivates them.

Part 2: Six ways to win over your mentee

  • Become genuinely interested in your mentee and what interests him or her. As Carnegie points out, you can make more friends in 2 months by becoming genuinely interested in other people than you can in two years of trying to get people interested in you. This is because we like and are interested in people who admire and are interested in us.
  • Smile. A real, heartwarming smile can be uplifting to your mentee and affect your own mood.
  • Use your mentee’s name from the start.  Remember that a person’s name is  the sweetest and most important sound in any language to that person.
  •  Be a good listener. Encourage your mentees to talk about themselves and be a good conversationalist and an attentive listener. Ask questions that your mentees will enjoy answering and encourage them to talk about themselves and accomplishments.
  •  Talk in terms of your mentee’s interests. Learn about topics that are of interest to your mentee. “The royal road to a person’s heart is to talk about things he or she treasures most.”
  • Make your mentee feel important – and do it sincerely.  If you want to be appreciated, give that feeling to others first.

Part 3: Key/Relevant points re how to influence your mentee’s cognitions

  •  If you are wrong, admit it quickly and emphatically. Admitting one’s errors reduces guilt and defensiveness and helps solve problems created by the error.
  • If you’re upset about something your mentee did, don’t show anger and emotion.  Instead, approach problems with patience and the desire to get along.
  • Let your mentee do a great deal of the talking. Listen to their accomplishments. Mention your achievements only when asked.
  • Let your mentee feel that ideas are theirs and, to balance the power, ask for  ideas or advice.

Part 4: Key/Relevant points re how to influence your mentee’s behavior

  • It is always more comfortable to hear something unpleasant about ourselves after we have heard some praise about our good points.
  • Praise the slightest improvement and praise every improvement.
  • Give your mentee a big reputation to live up to. Example: Telling your mentee that she has the qualities of a leader and you can see it by her work ethic.
  • Be sincere. Do not promise anything you can’t deliver.
  • Be empathetic. Ask yourself what it is the other person really wants in life, and use that understanding to motivate.