Monday, December 31, 2012

Dealing With Change: What if it's better?

It's a common refrain: change is stressful. At best I think most of us look at change with a quick, nervous glance. At best.

Change, no matter the kind nor the source, no matter whether willful or thrust upon us, is an experience that brings about doubt, trepidation and pressure. I think many of us tend to ponder on all of the possible negative outcomes of a particular change and that's understandable because change invites the unknown to our front door. And Fear of the Unknown seems to be something we're all born with.

Happily in the course of my life I'm both lucky and grateful to have had someone teach me to look in a different direction (so to speak) with respect to change. That person is actually not any of my past formal mentors but rather my best friend. On numerous occasions early in the 25 years we've known each other I brought up various life events in our conversations to share my fears about all the dark roads that will supposedly appear after a particular change I was experiencing. But each and every time he simply asked me:

"What if things turn out better than before?"

That simple question would shock me out of my fear-based thinking. At that time it would not often occur to me that some of the roads past change would lead to something better.

And over time I've found that 9 times out of 10 I was actually on a far better path than before the feared transition. After several years and many changes and many times having him ask me that question I learned to become quite "change-friendly". For more than a decade instead of change triggering a nervous response it would do the opposite and trigger an excited, energized, positive response. My first instinct is to think how will this change likely improve my life and not spend an inordinate amount of time or energy dwelling in the possibility of darkness that has not yet even occurred. This is an important lesson I aim to impart to my mentees as well as they deal with changes they hadn't expected. It is now the simple question I ask them.

Some may ask, "well, what if the change is 'truly' bad?". Taking the topic of health out of scope (health is a area outside of this career mentoring blog) I'd like to answer with a quote attributed to Marilyn Monroe:
Sometimes good things fall apart so better things can fall together. - Marilyn Monroe
Ultimately the result of the change is heavily influenced by your response to it. Even losing a job given the right context can turn out to be a positive thing. One example can be taken from the many stories out there of folks who lost their jobs and were forced to take a step down to find new work. However with less of a rat race pressuring them they've discovered they now have more time to spend with family and that ends up being more important to them. Other folks use an opportunity like a layoff to change their career path and pursue a dream. Your positive response doesn't necessarily lessen the difficulty of dealing with change but does increase the probability of getting a positive result.
You don’t drown by falling in the water. You drown by staying there. - Edwin Louis Cole
As we close out another year and journey into a new one with some of us promising to change and others about to be in receipt of change I wish you all a healthy, happy and peaceful year with nothing but 365 positive results.

Happy new year!
Photo credit: marsmet546

Sunday, December 23, 2012

The Art of the Question

On numerous occasions on this blog I've discussed how critically important questions  are in mentoring, in communication, in building a career and in life. I recently ran across a superb article giving tips on how to (and more importantly, how not to) ask questions. 

Whether using questions to learn new information, deal with confrontation or simply to educate you will significantly increase the chances of reaching your goal if you follow all the advice in the article "The One Conversational Tool That Will Make You Better At Absolutely Everything". The article could easily be retitled "The Art of the Question" but it's current title is quite apt.

If you read nothing else today I strongly suggest clicking over and taking a comprehensive look at asking great questions.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Are you an effective mentor?

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How does one know that he/she is being an effective mentor? 

I've been asked this question in several different forms. Mentoring is a significant time commitment and so one wants to be reassured that the time spent is not being "wasted". It's not like there's a checklist or report card out there to measure oneself by.

If our mentee/protégé is heeding our words or making significant changes based on our mentoring conversations we can tell there is an effect. But it's not always so clear. There are a few common frustrations mentors experience out there and some questions mentors ask themselves from time to time such as:

  1. Is my mentee listening to me?
  2. Is my mentee ever taking any of my advice?
  3. My mentee is about to make a big mistake - should I intervene?
  4. My mentee brings up the same subject over and over and over again. We've covered this. Why can't we move on?
These questions lead oneself to wonder how effective their mentoring might be.

I have a simple, straightforward way to figure it out: just ask the mentee!

The tough thing about mentoring is that the stories we share and the advice we give may take years to get fully digested and acted upon by the mentee. In fact we may never see the full measure of our positive influence on their lives. I know that when I've gone back to my own mentors to thank them for a conversation we had years earlier that led me to make a great decision often they don't recall even giving me that advice! We as mentors just have to know that being there for the mentee and actively listening could be the most powerful act we could do to help. And that help may never manifest itself into anything visible other than gratitude.

When those times of doubt about our usefulness cross our minds we can simply ask them "Are these conversations helping?"

I almost always end all of my mentoring conversations with that very question: "Was this talk today useful to you?". Happily the answer is usually "yes" but sometimes the answer is "somewhat" or "no" and that's completely fine. In some ways that's a better answer because it gives me an opportunity to delve into why. I learn a lot more about the mentee and sometimes I learn more about myself. I love figuring out how our conversations could be more helpful in the future.

No matter what if at the end of the day the mentee says a heartfelt "Thank you" then that's really the most important measure of effectiveness for me.

Progress doesn't always happen by leaps and bounds but usually by small, almost imperceptible micro-steps. That's still progress!