Sometimes it is easy to treat the “art of listening” as the “art of waiting to talk.”
Real listening isn’t about gathering your own thoughts—it’s about making sure that you understand others. As a mentor, your willingness to listen is often more valuable than your ability to give advice. You can demonstrate how much you value your mentee’s perspective, ideas, and companionship by taking the following steps:
- Ask open-ended questions. Young people frequently offer a simple “yes” or “no” reply to questions. Try asking open-ended questions, such as “Can you tell me more?” or “What do you think about that?” Open-ended questions invite your mentee to think and reflect; to share his ideas, opinions, and feelings; and to have some control over the conversation. Examples of open-ended questions include the following:
- “What would happen if…”
- “I wonder…”
- “What do you think about…”
- “Tell me about…”
- “What would you do…”
- “How can we…”
- “How did you…”
- Try reflective listening. Another way to show that you are listening is to reflect what you hear your mentee saying—for example, “It sounds like you feel frustrated by what happened.” By summarizing what you hear, you can determine whether your understanding is accurate, validate your mentee’s feelings, and enable the relationship to progress to another level. Reflective listening can be especially helpful if you and your mentee come from different backgrounds. If your mentee uses slang or words that you haven’t heard before, reflective listening can help you to clarify what she is saying.
- Listen twice as much as you speak. When your mentee is speaking, don’t interrupt. It may take time for him to open up, particularly if he has had negative experiences with other adults. If your mentee doesn’t talk much to you, try starting a conversation when you’re doing something active together, such as playing basketball. Young people are often more willing to talk if they don’t feel like they’re being interviewed or scrutinized. Mentors should only offer their opinions if the mentee asks.