Skills and Qualities of a Mentor

There are some general skills and qualities that all Mentors should possess.

The old adage that the GAOTU gave us two eyes, two ears but only one mouth so that we could look and listen four times as much as we speak, can certainly be applied to the Mentor.

Observational Skills

Keeping a watchful eye on your Candidate will provide useful indicators on how he is settling in to his masonry.

  • Does he join in with the brethren, or is he often to be found standing apart on his own?
  • Does he appear interested in the proceedings of the Lodge? His body language will tell you this. Is he looking at what is happening and does he appear to be focused on the ritual, or does he appear inattentive, look blank or easily distracted?
  • Facial expressions, gestures, posture, eye signals, body movements all transmit a message. Body language, it is claimed, can be a window to our thoughts, indeed it often speaks louder than words - we may say one thing, while our bodies say another.

There are key non-verbal signs:

  • Empathy can be signalled by smiles, open and positive gestures, standing or sitting close, eye contact and nodding and tilting the head.
  • A defensive or distrusting attitude 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.
  • Anger or aggression can be signalled by a rigid or tense body posture, staring eyes, 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, shifting weight or fidgeting.
  • Boredom can be signalled by picking imaginary fluff from sleeves, pulling at an ear, stifled yawning or gazing around the room.

Questioning Skills

Mentors need to bear in mind that their primary role is to help and encourage their charges to develop. This cannot be achieved if they create pressure or confusion by incorrect questioning. A meaningful coaching or mentoring session depends upon using questions that provoke a response that enhances learning.

There are two main types of question - open and closed. A closed question is one that may be answered by a simple 'yes' or 'no' and usually begin with 'do you', 'are you', 'have you' and so on. It may also be a question to which a respondent is offered a choice of alternative replies, such as 'which of the following options do you prefer?'

On the other hand, open questions are aimed at provoking an extended 'free' response and might start with 'what', 'where', 'which', 'why',' how' or 'when'.

Use closed questions:

  • Where a straightforward 'yes' or 'no' is enough
  • To gather or verify information
  • To confirm understanding of facts
  • To confirm agreement or commitment
  • To get a decision where there are a number of alternatives.

The repeated use of closed questions needs to be avoided, because a series of such questions can become wearying on the respondent and can quickly turn a discussion into an interrogation.

A more difficult skill to develop, but one that is essential to guiding and supporting a learner, is to use open questions that enable the Mentor to:

  • Establish rapport and put the other person at ease
  • Free up the other person to answer as they choose and in their own words
  • Encourage uninhibited feedback
  • Help explore opinions and values in more detail
  • Create involvement and commitment
  • Check out understanding more comprehensively.

For example, if you wanted to ask a Candidate about the merits of the Festive Board, you could say 'Do you think the Festive Board is a good idea?' This invites a simple 'yes' or 'no' response. If you had phrased the question 'What do you think are the good and bad points about the Festive Board?', then you would invite a response that would require the Candidate to express an opinion. The benefits of using appropriate open questions are evident.

Listening Skills

It is the ability to listen 'actively' that separates the good communicators from the poor. This involves really concentrating on the message being transmitted, by trying to understand not only what is being said, but how and why it is being said.

Success as a Mentor depends, to a large extent, on the ability to concentrate effectively on what is being said, often for long periods. You may well make the other person feel unimportant or not valued, if they sense you are not paying close attention to their ideas or considering their feelings.

When in discussion, listen for a note of confidence or hesitation in a Candidate's voice. This will indicate whether he really understands the topic or is still to grasp what is being discussed. Confidence, and other emotions, will most probably be expressed as much in the tone of the response as in the actual words themselves.

A successful Mentor who does possess the above techniques will soon discover they are very useful, as they will quickly enable him to gain a true picture of the Candidate's strengths and abilities. By doing so, the Mentor will be able to start making judgments on how the Candidate may be able to contribute towards the lodge, if he so wishes. Does he have a flair for public speaking, a good way with figures, an ability to form relationships quickly, is he an organised person?

By identifying such skills, the Mentor may see the potential for a future Secretary, Charity Steward, DC etc.

Please refer to the pdficon small Guidelines for Active Listening and Reflection.