Being a better peer mentor: what skills matter?

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Like many things worth pursuing, becoming a top-notch peer mentor doesn’t just happen. It takes some work, commitment and self-examination to get there.

But don’t worry! Because with a bit of time and effort, you can learn every skill you need to take your mentoring mindset from ho-hum to humming 🐝

It comes down to a mere handful of skills – all of which you probably already have (even if they’re a work in progress). 

We’re going to cover all those here but before we do, let’s quickly recap on the whole peer mentoring thing and the benefits it brings.

What is peer mentoring?

Peer mentoring is a bit different to the more ‘traditional’ type of mentoring (when a senior employee partners up with someone less experienced). There is 100% a time and place for this – like all types of mentoring –  but there has certainly been a shift towards connecting with a network of similar professionals.

This creates more of a collaborative environment, where everyone in your mentoring group (or partnership if it’s just with one other person) offers advice, insights and learning opportunities to one another. 

What are the benefits of peer mentoring?

An effective peer mentoring community or partnership is about mutual growth and will help you:

  • Establish a network of well-matched professionals 
  • Expose you to different ways of thinking and problem-solving
  • Positivity impact others
  • Increase your confidence

(Want to dig deeper into peer mentoring? Check out this blog)

A peep into peer mentoring skills

Alright. Take a deep breath and a moment to (honestly) think about how well you:

👥 Empathise with people around you

🗣 Communicate your feelings

👂🏿 Listen (like actually listen)

🤗 Make yourself vulnerable

Because those, my friends, are the skills you need to get the most out of peer mentoring. And when peer mentoring skills become second nature, you’ll see benefits across all facets of your career

Worth a read, if we do say so ourselves 😉

Empathy

Yes, it’s different to sympathy (where you communicate your sorrow to someone). When you’re empathetic, you put yourself in another person’s shoes – even (and this can be tricky) if you haven’t gone through that particular experience yourself.

Not a born empath? Not a big deal. Like we said, you can learn all these skills.

If you could do with a little nudge towards the empathy train, think about:

  • Showing care and concern

Ask questions to really understand someone’s situation and then listen to the answer. The workplace can be challenging and sometimes, all a person needs is to be heard. 

  • Putting the judgement aside

Nothing shuts down a person faster than their confidant being all judgey. Like we aren’t already judged enough! Be open, be prepared to consider a different perspective and don’t jump straight into problem solving mode. Do you like it when someone pipes up with a ‘oh, that sounds like the time I…’ ? No, thanks!

via GIPHY

  • Not dismissing someone’s feelings

Whether you think someone’s emotional state is justified or not, you can’t change how they’re feeling. Sure, you can work through those feelings with them, but brushing aside emotions (no matter how uncomfortable they are) doesn’t actually make them disappear. 

The key to communication

Not everyone is a natural communicator. For some, it’s downright terrifying. What if people don’t (gasp) like what they hear?

Well, we’re all adults here and sometimes the news ain’t pretty. And that’s ok. The important thing is to do it respectfully, thoughtfully and constructively.

In other words, try to:

🧏 Listen

Yes, there’s that word again. She matters. And not just for listening’s sake, but to actually hear what your peers are saying. Trust us: we ALL know when you’re not listening. You’ll know, too, because your peers will quickly disengage

😌 Keep it unemotional

Giving feedback or advice can be awkward for all parties involved. Whether you’re giving or receiving input, try to separate the human side from the actual situation. Save the ‘you should haves…’ and go for a ‘perhaps you could try…’.

⬆️  Be straight up

There’s no point beating around the bush. It muddies the waters and benefits precisely no one. You can still be honest without reducing a peer to a blubbering mess. You’re all there to develop yourselves, so give everyone the chance to get what they came for.

Get (actively) listening

Are we sounding like a broken record yet? Since we’ve, ahem, touched on it before, we’ll keep it brief.

In essence, you want to make your peers feel understood. So, when they say something, you repeat it back to them (perhaps not word for word like a robot. Put your own spin on things – that’ll confirm you’re getting it right AND make your colleague feel you’re properly ‘hearing’ them).

Need to fake it till you make it? That’s fine! Get ready to:

👁 Maintain eye contact and (appropriate) facial expressions

When done genuinely, this tells the talker you’re paying attention.

🤫 Keep words to a minimum

Giving people the time and space to speak as much as they want means they’ll be way more forthcoming.

👍🏻 Be encouraging

Encourage the speaker to keep talking by conveying interest (no yawning, please!), dropping in questions and staying focused. Nothing says ‘I’m bored’ like someone looking away, fidgeting or sighing. 

Being vulnerable

Set the scene by being upfront with your feelings. Dropping our guard is something most of us are working on – simple because it’s quite confronting! 

Of course, we are only human, so why wouldn’t we be vulnerable? The trick is to allow others to see all your feelings, flaws and foibles so that they are ‘permitted’ to do the same.

Peer mentoring isn’t about ticking a box. It’s about taking a long, hard look at where you are, where you want to be and how you’re going to do it

And being candid is the only way you’ll get there.

Skilling up for life

Peer mentoring skills aren’t rocket science. They’re really just everyday attitudes that’ll make you a better employee, friend and person

And the best news? They’re practical, easily-acquired and relevant to everyone.

Whether you’re already a peer mentor, want to get involved in some sessions or just want to progress your career, these skills will support your journey.

Want to get involved with peer mentoring? Pop over and see us here!

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