Time to listen in and observe to foster better mentor-mentee relationships

Lucas-Thompson, R. G., Weiler, L. M., Haddock, S. A., Henry, K. L., Zimmerman, T. S.,  Krafchick, J., & Prabhu, N. (2020). “Listening In”: Improving the Science and Practice of Mentoring Through Naturalistic Observations of Mentor–Mentee Relationships. Journal of Child and Family Studies. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10826-020-01777-3

Summarized by Ariel Ervin

Notes of Interest:

  • Although many studies and papers have repeatedly demonstrated the importance of relationship quality in youth mentoring programs, many of them still depend on self-report data.
  • This paper explains some of the limitations in using self-report to measure relationship quality; discusses the potential benefits of utilizing observational measures; and proposes an observational framework for rating the quality of mentoring relationships.
  • Future studies on observational measures need to consider the similarities and differences between the observed aspects of mentoring relationships and mentoring self-reports. 

Introduction (Reprinted from the Abstract)

Theory and empirical evidence indicate that the quality of relationships between mentors and youth is critical to determining the effects that mentoring programs have on youth participants. However, studies of mentoring programs have relied almost exclusively on self-reports of the quality of the mentoring relationship. The goals of the current paper are to discuss the limitations of exclusively relying on self-reports to measure relationship quality, argue for the necessity of incorporating naturalistic observations into measurement, and propose a specific framework for naturalistic observation and rating of these relationships.

Implications (Reprinted from Improving Practice Using Naturalistic Observations)

Mentor training must include teaching the essential skills for building and sustaining a high-quality mentor–mentee relationship, including the development of closeness, maintaining empathy and compassion, demonstrating authenticity (Rhodes 2005; Spencer 2006), ensuring collaboration and mutuality (Spencer 2006), and serving as a sage mentor (Keller and Pryce 2012). There is a gap in the mentoring literature related to how to effectively teach these skills and ensure they are mastered and consistently used by mentors. These essential skills are typically taught by providing mentors with their definitions along with concrete examples of each skill. Although mentors often report an understanding of these relational building blocks, they may not use them consistently in their interactions with their mentees. Integrating the iEAR methodology into mentor training may offer significant and meaningful opportunities to enhance the development of skills and increase the consistent use of them. During training, mentors may benefit from “listening in” on actual mentoring conversations from the iEAR database of interactions. Mentors can identify which skills (i.e., empathy, authenticity) are being used in conversations. They can identify missed opportunities during which a skill could have been used but wasn’t, and instances in which mentor responses were harmful to relationship building. Through listening and engaging with these real interactions between mentors and mentees, significant value can be added to the mentor training to build

strong and sustained mentoring relationships with their Mentees.

For ongoing mentor training and supervision throughout the mentor and mentee relationship, mentors can occasionally wear the iEAR recording equipment to capture

some of the interactions with their mentee. They can listen to the recordings and identify for themselves where they are using essential elements and instances of missed opportunities.

The supervisor also can listen to these recordings with the mentor to provide feedback, encouragement, and examples of alternative responses. In instances in which a mentor is struggling to form a positive relationship with their mentee, having a supervisor listen to actual interactions between the mentoring pair would be an especially valuable method for the supervisor and mentor to develop personalized strategies for improvement.

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