How do I connect with my mentee better? My mentee does not
My mentee does not talk to me much. I cannot reach my mentee.
Sometimes mentors have trouble establishing a connection or rapport with their mentees as soon as we expect. And this can lead to disappointment or frustration.
A mentoring relationship is different from relationships we are used to. We normally do not pursue or stay in relationships where we don’t get much feedback or reciprocation of efforts in in return for our own efforts. So when one’s mentee does not open up, it makes a mentor’s role tough. We wonder what’s wrong.
Many young people take time to build a rapport with a new person. A mentor is a new person in their life and someone who is different than adults he/she is used to interacting with.
How much a mentee opens up also depends on his/her personality or self-esteem. Many are shy and introverted. Many are intimidated by someone who’s different. Many are not used to having an open interaction or relationship with an adult in the manner we expect, since they are used a different form of interaction with adults at school or home. So it may seem strange, confusing or intimidating.
In some cases, mentees take time to understand the program and the concept of a mentor itself. Despite being briefed by the partner staff it’s not an easy concept for young people to process. Some sign up with just a vague idea of what to expect and still carry some apprehensions and doubts. Some change their minds after a few meetings. Some understand better only after a few meetings and discussions with a mentor.
Sometimes we may need to customize the format of mentoring meetings to suit the needs or personality of the mentee. Mentees who are shy may prefer less conversation and shorter durations. Some may be more comfortable with activities rather than a long conversation.
So this initial induction may demand a lot more time and patience from the mentor. Sometimes discussing these episodes at Reflective Practice Sessions can help.
If the mentee does not seem interested, and things don’t move forward after several attempts, we let go. There is then the option of working with a different mentee who seeks help within the program. Dream A Dream will support the mentor through this process.
As mentors, all we can really do, is offer an opportunity and demonstrate for some time our commitment and then allow the mentee to decide if he/she wants to make use of it.
Ashwin mentors Sumith, a 14 year old boy who lives in a slum near Bommanahalli in Bangalore. They have known each other for a month now.
Sumith goes to a Kannada medium high school and is in his 9th Std. His father is coconut vendor and his mother works at a garments factory. They are both daily wage earners. He has an older sister who is in PUC. She is good at academics and Sumith and his parents are proud of her. He looks up to her. He looked much younger that his age and seemed physically smaller.
Ashwin noticed that Sumith was very cautious at meetings. Ashwin found it difficult to carry on a conversation with Sumith as he spoke very little and shared very little. When Ashwin asked what Sumith would like to do, he would say ‘anything you say’. He seemed impatient or uncomfortable at meetings and wanted to leave soon. It seemed like he wanted to go with his friends or didn’t want to be seen with Ashwin.
Ashwin found it hard to reach Sumith on the phone as the number he had, was that of his father. Most of the time his father would be out at work. So Ashwin would request the father to pass on the message to Sumith to call back. But Sumith would never call back.
One day Ashwin came 20 minutes late to a scheduled meeting. But Sumith wasn’t there. A few friends of Sumith mentioned that he had waited for some time and since Ashwin didn’t come he left. It has been hard to schedule meetings since.
Ashwin felt that maybe Sumith does not really want to meet him or talk to him. Maybe he was avoiding him. He wonders if there is a way to connect with Sumith.
Feedback/Validation/Suggestions from the Group
- It’s frustrating and disappointing when one’s mentee does not open up or seem excited to see you. It happens to a lot of mentors. Some young people take more time that we expect, to build a rapport with a new person. Maybe Ashwin just needs more time with Sumith. Maybe it’s too early.
- It may be a good idea to use validation levels 3, 4 & 5, to check if meeting in school and his friends/peers being around makes it uncomfortable for him. Would he like it if they met outside school instead?
- Maybe he still does not know what to really expect from these meetings. So a conversation to explain Ashwin’s role and how he can help Sumith may work. Ashwin could also list a few options of activities and allow Sumith to pick what he wants to do in the next meeting. It may also be a good idea to ask if he really wants to continue.
- Ashwin could find an alternative contact number with the help of Dream A Dream staff since it’s not easy getting through to Sumith on the current number.
Prabhanjan mentors Dinakar, a 14 year old boy who lives in a slum in Roopena Agrahara in Bangalore. They have known each other for a month now.
Dinakar goes to a Kannada medium high school and is in his 9th Std. His father is driver and his mother works as a housemaid. They are both daily wage earners. He has an older sister and brother.
Prabhanjan noticed that Dinakar was very shy and avoided eye contact and looked down. He always chose a secluded spot in the school for the meetings.
Dinakar spoke very little. Prabhanjan mentioned that he would try to ask questions to keep the conversation going. But he usually gets brief one word or one line answers.
He learned that Dinakar did not really know what he wanted to do after high school. He seemed to have a vague idea about a diploma course. But nothing further.
Interestingly Dinakar sought Prabhanjan’s help for a few subjects in school – English, Math, and Science. They went through some books. They also practiced some English but Dinakar soon gave up. He was finding it difficult.
Dinakar did not turn up at the next meeting. He said he had to go to temple. He then requested they meet after 2 weeks as he has extra classes.
When Prabhanjan inquired if they could meet outside the school, Dinakar said no. He said that his friends would see him and make fun of them. So he said he wanted to meet only in school and for 10 minutes or shorter durations.
Whenever Prabhanjan tries to reach his mentee on the phone he does not get through and he does not call back either.
He tried to find an interest area by inquiring what movies he likes or sports…etc but Dinakar generally says he is not interested in those topics. Prabhanjan has had no success in finding a common interest area.
Prabhanjan shared that he feels his mentee seems like he wants to avoid him or does not like him and tends to be closed. He wonders if there is any way to connect better with Dinakar.
Feedback/Validation/Suggestions from the Group
- It’s frustrating and disappointing when one’s mentee does not open up or seem excited to see you. It happens to a lot of mentors. Some young people take more time that we expect, to build a rapport with a new person. Some are shy and introverted by nature. Maybe Prabhanjan just needs more time to earn his trust.
- It nice to see that Prabhanjan was patient and attempted different ways to connect.
- Sometimes too many closed questions and ‘why’ leads to short brief responses. Maybe Prabhanjan could attempt simpler open ended questions and use validation levels 3,4,5.
- Many young people who are shy would normally avoid situations where long conversation is involved. Especially with a new person. Sometimes it’s because others are watching.
- It’s important that as mentors, we get used to the silence or long pauses. We could also try shorter meetings. Over time, the length of the meetings could gradually be increased by a few minutes. The alternative, maybe, ‘doing’ some activity, and not pushing for conversation. ‘Less talking, more doing’. This way he gets to feel comfortable in Prabhanjan’s presence. Some activities are listed in the blog. Prabhanjan could let his mentee pick an activity from 3-4 options. This way they both know what to expect in the next meeting.
- For now it makes sense to meet at the school until he is comfortable. Prabhanjan could use validation levels 3, 4 & 5, to let him know he understands Dinakar’s challenge with friends/peers making fun of him.
- Prabhanjan could try and check if there is an alternative venue in Dinakar’s mind, somewhere they could meet without his friends seeing or making fun.
- Prabhanjan could check with Dream A Dream to find alternative contact numbers if the current number is hard to get through.
Rupak mentors Mustaq, a 17 year old boy who lives in a slum in Bismillanagar in Bangalore. They have known each other for a month now.
Mustaq goes to high school and is in his 10th Std. He lives with his parents, an older brother, sister and younger brother. His father is truck driver and truck mechanic. His teachers mention that he does get into trouble in school with teachers and other kids. He has a history of getting into fights.
Mustaq came late to his first meeting. He was quite anxious and wondered if he was the only one. He seemed unsure of what to expect from the meeting. But Rupak managed to explain his role. They discussed things Mustaq wanted to do after high school. He seemed to be a little confused. He mentioned working with the army, or software company or start his own shop. They decided to work further on his goals and plans in the next meeting.
Mustaq requested they meet outside school. Rupak agreed and said he would call and confirm.
They did not meet next week as Rupak could not get through to Mustaq to confirm the meeting. He tried again next week but still found it hard to reach him on the number given. When he checked with the school he wasn’t there.
Eventually Rupak managed to reach Mustaq on his phone and they planned to meet that Saturday at 3.00pm. When Rupak tried to confirm the day of the meeting he could not reach him on his phone. He left a message at his school. But when he called up again at the end of school hours at 12.00pm, he had already left. So they didn’t meet.
Rupak does not know how to proceed.
Feedback/Validation/Suggestions from the Group:
- Sometimes the coordination and scheduling is a lot harder than we initially expect it to be. It may be frustrating and confusing. It takes time for both mentors and mentees to settle into a pattern.
- Maybe it’s a matter of simplifying schedules. Just plan a day and time a week in advance and just turn up rather than re-confirming on the phone and checking too many times.
- Maybe he does not like waiting at the school. He seemed to not like the environment. He does have a history of having trouble at school. So maybe he left school that day as he had to wait 3 hours till the scheduled meeting. Maybe he would have turned up.
- Rupak could check with Dream A Dream to find alternative contact numbers if the current number is hard to get through.
*Names of youth have been changed to protect their identity