This is the advice I'm offering to mentors on my forthcoming website, giftedmentor.net, which will, at no cost, match mentors with bright kids (who are so ignored in many of today's public schools, which focus so much on low achievers.)
- Rather than launching into what you're interested in, usually it's wiser to identify what your protégé wants to talk about. So, you might, for example, start a conversation with, "So, what would you like to talk about today?"
- Of course, sometimes, you'll want to share something with your protégé, for example, "I had this amazing experience today. Or I've got a little problem and I could use your advice." (Protégés, not just mentors, can give advice and, in fact, most love to.)
- A rule of thumb is to talk 30 to 50% of the time and encourage your protégé to talk 50 to 70% of the time.
- Use the Traffic Light Rule of communication: During the first 30 seconds of an utterance, your light is green. That means your protégé is listening and not thinking you talk too much. During the next 30 seconds, your light is yellow. That means the risk is increasing that your listener is bored, overwhelmed, or dying to respond. After the one-minute mark, your light is red. Yes, occasionally, you can go beyond a minute, for example, when telling an interesting story, but generally you should stop or ask a question.
- Really listen to what your protégé is saying and how he's saying it. For example, notice when he changes his tone of voice or body language. (See how communication skills are far from easy.)
- Reveal some things about yourself, for example, you might explain that you faced a problem similar to the one your protégé is facing.
- Don't interrupt unless you think it really will benefit the conversation.
- Many people hate unasked-for advice; others welcome it. To be safe, when tempted to give advice, say something like, "Would you mind if I made a suggestion, would you rather I ask you questions to help you solve the problem, or do you want me to just listen?"
- When you're not sure you understand, say something like, "Let me be sure I understand." "Then paraphrase what your protégé said.
- At least occasionally, initiate conversations about "deep" issues. But keep your antennae up to see if your protégé is finding a topic uncomfortable. If so, back off.
- When your protégé wants to avoid a topic that you believe is important to discuss, take one shot at getting your protégé to open up, for example, say, "Don't you think it's a good idea that we talk about this?" If he resists, let it go and perhaps bring it up some other time.
- Criticize infrequently.
- To soften the blow of a criticism, couch it gently, for example, "Would you mind if I made a suggestion?" On getting the okay, say something like, "I'm wondering if you might try doing X. What do you think?"
- Rarely will you feel glad you showed anger to your protégé. So, as soon as you feel yourself getting angry or defensive, the usually wise move is to excuse yourself and walk away, perhaps to the bathroom, take some deep breaths and calm down. If by the next session, you still feel angry, you can bring the issue up. By then, you'll probably do it more calmly.
- Be aware of your protege getting restless. Many kids do best with short periods of conversation followed by a period of activity--for example, flying a kite, helping with homework, reading aloud a book, doing a science experiment (that doesn't blow up the house.)
So do you see what I mean when I say that being a good communicator is far from easy?