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  • Catherine Hodgson


Updated: Aug 11, 2021

Being in a successful mentoring relationship means being connected with that person. For that connection to be strong, you need to first focus on building rapport and trust, which will be rewarded with deeper conversations.

When there is a lack of trust, people cannot relate to each other in a way that produces innovative and strategic thinking.

Our brain is wired to detect threats – this is our primal instinct. When we are in a state of distrust, we feel threatened and we feel we need to protect ourselves. However, if the interaction feels safe and we feel comfortable, our body produces oxytocin and dopamine, both “feel good” hormones. These make us feel open, safe and connected. Our executive brain, the prefrontal cortex, opens up and allows us to think more clearly, being able to access empathy, innovation, and higher decision making. We connect with others more deeply and are able to trust the other person.

So how do we build trust? When I think of building trust I go to the acronym of TRUST: Transparency, Relationship, Understanding, Shared Success and Truth Telling (Judith E. Glaser, Conversational Intelligence). However, I have changed the “Shared Success” to “Stay Reliable” for discussing trust in a mentoring relationship.

Transparency: you need to be open and transparent in order to build trust. You cannot be hiding things from your mentoring partner, withholding information, only giving them what you think they need to know. In a mentoring relationship, if you are not transparent with your mentoring partner, they will not be able to completely understand your issue. It also means being open to being vulnerable. As soon as you show vulnerability, the other person will be more open to be vulnerable as well.

Relationship: To build trust you need to put the relationship before the task. This means spending time getting to know each other before jumping straight into the issue or problem. Spend the first meeting asking questions to fully understand how your mentoring partner thinks, their background, their strengths, their values, their fears, what got them to where they are today and ask them about their vision and aspirations. Only once you really understand the person can you better understand the issue on hand.

Understanding: this is not about understanding the other person, this is standing under the other person’s reality. To build trust with another person, you need to be able to step into their shoes and see the world through their eyes. If you do this, you really get to understand the person which helps to build trust. I know this may be a very difficult thing to do. We make judgments about others without really knowing the other person’s whole story, where they come from, what has happened in their lives and the reasons they are doing what we may be judging. A person comes to the conversation carrying their own life lessons, interpretations, memories and stories; all of which may be very different to your own. Think about how you can suspend judgment. Do you have a right to judge that person? Stop all your own thinking and be open to listen with an open heart.

Stay Reliable: Do what you say you are going to do. If you tell your mentoring partner that you are going to do something, then do it, or let them know why it has not been done. They are needing someone reliable on their mentoring journey. Be that someone.

Truth telling and testing assumptions: Yes, you need to tell the truth in order to build trust. But you also need to test what assumptions you are making about another person, see where the reality gaps lie and then work on bridging the gaps. All too often we quickly make assumptions about other people. But if we are open with them, listen intently, ask discovery questions and become genuinely curious, then we can bridge those reality gaps. To do this you need to reflect back to the other person what you are hearing so that you are both on the same page. Don’t just assume you understand what they are saying. By doing this, you will be showing the other person that you are genuinely listening to them.

Once you have spent the time building rapport and trust, the connection that you have made will allow for deeper conversations where learning can be fostered.

Take the time to build trust - it is part of the foundation of your mentoring relationship.

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