Mentoring at a Distance
In any relationship, effective communication is a key to success. This is especially true with long-distance mentoring relationships where you may not have regular face-to-face contact with your partner. It is also important to keep in mind that, on MicroMentor, users connect across nearly 200 different countries, making sensitivity to differences between cultural communication norms essential. We've discovered six key ways you can improve communication with your partner and make mentoring at a distance more effective.
1. Allow Time to Build the Relationship
At first, your long-distance mentoring relationship may grow at a slower pace than you’d expect in a face-to-face relationship. Without meeting in person, it can take more effort to get comfortable and build trust during the initial relationship-building phase. To start, make sure to dedicate time to understanding how business and culture are different where your partner lives.
Proceed by sharing organizational and personal information (within agreed-upon boundaries), and keep a record of your partner’s information handy to refresh your memory whenever you contact each other. Remember that each relationship is unique, as some individuals are comfortable being friendly and chatty early on, while others take some time to warm up.
2. Strengthen Your Commitment
In order to avoid falling into the “out of sight, out of mind” trap that can harm long-distance relationships, consider fostering accountability by agreeing to a “contract” that defines your level of commitment. Your contract should including when, how, and what you’ll communicate with each other as well as your goals for the relationship. Update the document whenever necessary to help you plan your meetings, keep you on track, and keep the commitment fresh.
3. Plan Ahead
Make sure to schedule mentoring meetings in advance and always be punctual. Avoid canceling unless there is an emergency and reschedule immediately if necessary. It is also helpful if the mentee creates and shares an agenda before each meeting and both parties summarize the discussion and agreements after each meeting.
4. Listen Actively and Avoid Interruptions
Since most of your mentoring meetings will be through exchanging messages or on the phone, paying extra attention and actively listening is especially important. If you’re on a call, try to sharpen your sensitivity to subtle changes in tone of voice and pace of speech — both your mentoring partner’s and yours. To avoid misinterpreting each other, frequently check to ensure you’re in agreement. Eliminate distractions when possible.
5. Communicate Frequently Between Meetings
Between your meetings, exchanging e-mails, interesting memos, articles, and links to resources related to the work plan is a simple way to remind your partner that you are invested in the relationship. Call each other just to check in, say hello or share some news relevant to the partnership. This will help to keep the relationship alive between scheduled meetings.
6. Utilize Technological Resources
Video chat solutions like Skype and Google Hangouts can help you to form a more personal connection with your partner. You can also consider sharing digital photographs of yourselves and your work environments. This can humanize the relationship when you don’t have the opportunity to meet in person. In early phases of the relationship try out various communication styles to see what works best for both of you.
The Cultural Dimensions Tool
If cultural differences are vast, the Geert Hofstede Cultural Dimensions Tool can help to guide your understanding of how your partner might think and act differently than you do. This is an online resource that will give you insight into six dimensions of “culture” and how these differ in each country context.
For the purposes of improving your ability to effectively communicate with your mentoring partner, we recommend reading about cultural preferences in your partner’s country and even conducting a country comparison to see where your cultures differ and where they are the same. After gaining a better understanding of where both parties are coming from, you will be able to adjust your communication techniques to reflect a deepened cultural awareness.
Reflects how a society views social hierarchies and inequalities among people
Individualism versus Collectivism
Compares social frameworks based on the degree to which they are “tightly-knit”
Masculinity versus Femininity
Compares “tough versus tender” cultures
Reflects the degree to which a society feels uncomfortable with ambiguity
Long Term Orientation versus Short Term Orientation
Compares a society’s connection and relationship with the past
Indulgence versus Restraint
Compares the degree to which gratification is culturally accepted