Negotiating Your Mentoring Relationship

Featured Columnist: Dr. Beth Fisher-Yoshida

A young woman, early in her career, was ecstatic that she was at a conference with access to so many successful career women. By the end of the day after many conversations she had exchanged business cards with several women who she admired. She was planning on follow-up telephone calls the next week. She was not sure about the exact topic of conversation in these calls, but she knew she was curious about their careers and wanted to learn from them in the process of building her own network and career.

This is one example of the types of exchanges I witnessed at the WIN Summit on May 17th and 18th when about 400 dynamic women (and some men) came together to learn about negotiation. Negotiating your own career development is another application of the negotiation goals, strategies and tactics that were highlighted at the conference. In addition to the engaging topics of the presentations and useful tips for the participants, the wealth of information and experience in the room was impressive. Each woman present had something unique to offer and the excitement of being in this space with so many dynamic women was breathtaking. There are many ways of learning and one important factor is to create the environment that is conducive to both formal and informal processes.

In addition to junior career women gaining access to more senior and seasoned professionals, there were opportunities for senior career women to find fulfillment in nourishing others through mentoring. I was equally impressed to find that so many women were there for the expressed purpose of sharing and mentoring. There was a sentiment of giving back and supporting younger women in their career journey, to guide them through some of the trials and tribulations they also might face as they try to advance in their careers. They wanted them to be better prepared than they were and they had a vested interest in seeing more women successful in the workplace.

This is not always the case as on some occasions it has been said that women can be harsher and less supportive of other women than men. If we think there are a finite amount of slots for women to occupy, because of the traditional lack of women in executive ranks, then some women might feel threatened that another younger woman is coming into her space, after all the years of effort in being a trailblazer, working hard and creating her own path.

There are different ways to learn about negotiation, from formal courses and workshops, to experience on the job. Mentoring offers an opportunity to learn form others and to explore the finer nuances of negotiation that can be gleaned from the guidance a mentor can provide. There are different types of mentoring relationships, some being more formal than others. Catalyst mentions characteristics of what would make a mentoring relationship more likely to be successful. They include:

-Being a match, or having fit, between mentor and mentee based on skills and development needs that have been identified. It is therefore, useful if both mentor and mentee do their homework and think in advance about what they have to offer and what they would like to learn.

-Articulating goals, and describing methods of how they will be developed and achieved. There is more than one path to take and deciding on a process that is both challenging and supportive is critical.

-Establishing a clear and formal process used to monitor the relationship and goals outlined, so that there can be adjustments as needed. As the mentoring relationship develops there may be a need to modify the original goals and processes so that new information and needs that are surfaced can be accommodated.

-Committing time to developing the mentoring relationship and establishing the minimum amount of time required to making it successful. There needs to be a certain momentum maintained or it will run flat and neither party will benefit.

-Determining measures of accountability for the mentor and mentee to be held to deliver on based on what they each committed to doing. Having these measures outlined up front allows each party to track her own participation in the mentoring relationship.

-Aligning the goals with those of the organization in the case this is in a business or work context. One way of measuring success and being able to add value is if the mentee is able to advance in her work setting and this can be achieved through alignment.

There are obstacles that can derail a mentoring relationship, such as not clarifying expectations and the mentor and mentee framing the give and take differently. Or it can fail by never taking off because a potential mentee does not reach out to a mentor for fear of rejection. Mentors also need to make it known that they are willing and open to being a mentor as well.

Negotiating relationships is key and mentoring is a critical part of the journey women need to be able to advance in their careers. Creating more opportunities that foster these possibilities is one way of assuring learning is passed on through the generations.

Beth Fisher-Yoshida is faculty and director of the Master of Science in Negotiation and Conflict Resolution at Columbia University.

If you would like to hear more from Dr. Fisher-Yoshida please join WIN Summit and the New York Liberty at Madison Square Garden on August 8, 2017 for a Night of Negotiation and Basketball.

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