Picture this: As the mentor to a student through ASHA’s Student to Empowered Professional (S.T.E.P.) program, you and your mentee exchange emails twice weekly. You wonder if you need to be in contact so often, but you respond to your student as soon as you can. After a couple of months, you’re surprised to learn the student asked to discontinue the relationship, saying you’ve been nonresponsive and rarely available for support.
This situation illustrates the importance of communication in establishing and maintaining a successful mentoring relationship.
No matter what the type of mentoring relationship—in S.T.E.P. or other programs, short-term or long-term, formal or informal, with peers or in supervisory capacity—two key factors contribute most to its success: establishing clear expectations for communication and setting clear goals.
S.T.E.P. targets the recruitment and retention of historically under-represented populations into communication sciences and disorders. The program welcomes students pursuing careers in audiology and speech-language pathology. Student and mentor enrollment for this year closes Feb. 28.
Communication expectations are especially important in one-to-one mentoring relationships. Focus career guidance on day-to-day operations in a particular area of expertise and/or a specific setting. Technology offers almost limitless ways to stay in touch. Mobile devices allow us to text, call, video chat, or communicate through apps. S.T.E.P.’s mentoring app, for example, includes a messaging system.
Decide together how you want to communicate and how often. Be honest about your needs and expectations. As we saw in the example above, two people can view the same frequency of contact differently.
Decide how to stay in touch—email, calls, messaging, video chat—as well as frequency, regular times, and what you’ll discuss. Talk about preferred communication styles to discover what works best for both of you.
Of course, remain flexible. Email might work best for exchanging professional resources, but your mentee might want to talk on the phone about challenging work situations.
We write down goals and share them with our clients to promote success. Why wouldn’t we apply the same logic to mentoring and career goals?
Include goals in your mentoring plan, but also a time frame for achieving them. In addition, set up ways to measure success. For example, if a S.T.E.P. student wants to learn more about working in health care, the mentoring pair could set up an action plan that might include:
- Exchanging and discussing two articles related to working in health care.
- Participating in the ASHA Community Discussion group on health care to learn about hot topics.
- A six-month completion date for covering this topic.
Goals don’t need to be complicated, but keep them clear, measurable, and completed within an established time frame. Even a general question can help get you both started on setting goals. Try something like: “Where do you see yourself in five years?” Then you can work backward to create the action steps needed to get there.
At times, mentees might not have a solid direction for their career, and that’s OK. Just keep up consistency of communication.
ASHA offers many ways for you to mentor. Experienced audiologists and SLPs can offer advice in ASHA Community discussion groups, Special Interest Groups, and formal mentoring programs.
Andrea Moxley, MA, CCC-SLP, is ASHA’s associate director of multicultural practices. firstname.lastname@example.org