A lifetime of mentoring – interview with Dr Katy Barnwell

by Dr Michael Jemphrey

Dr Michael Jemphrey, Translation and Anthropology Consultant, SIL

Dr Katy Barnwell needs no introduction to anyone in the Bible translation world. I first met her when I was a newbie consultant in training in Cote d’Ivoire at a consultant workshop she led in the 1980’s. The way she gently encouraged us and sensitively handled some critical remarks has stayed with me. It was an honour for me to do this interview with her recently. She has returned to the UK and continues to mentor others in West Africa. She is ever ready to learn.

Thanks to Katy for these thoughtful words and inspiring testimony.

Photo by Eva Blue on Unsplash.

Speaking grace and truth in mentoring: how we grow through challenges

by Kate M.

Kate M, Translation Consultant, SIL

If somebody asked me, what was missing from mentoring I received as a translation consultant-in-training, I would say, “Being challenged – challenged to grow in my consultant and interpersonal skills; challenged to develop deeper knowledge of Biblical languages; challenged in writing papers; and challenged in my knowledge of related disciplines.” As it was clear that I could easily meet the requirements for becoming a translation consultant, my main mentor didn’t see the need to challenge me. In contrast, my current mentor regularly challenges me. For example, last year I learned better time management and this year I’m expanding my knowledge in different areas. In accepting these challenges, I am finding joy when seeing my hard work pay off and also seeing growth in areas I had not even thought about.

An effective mentor sees strengths and also areas for development in his or her mentee and has the privilege of speaking grace and truth into the mentee’s life. In the following examples, drawn from my personal experiences as a mentor, I will show how speaking grace and truth into a mentee’s life can spark growth.

A hard-working, young woman was leading translation checking sessions very competently. However, I noticed that she frequently used the words ‘maybe’ and ‘it is possible that…’ when she presented her ideas and suggestions to the team. Her perception of herself was that she is ‘just a beginner’ and here she was mistaken. The truth she needed to hear is that she is an expert in her field. For her this truth provided the freeing grace of growing confidence. The challenge for her was and is to speak with humble confidence, as the expert she has already become.

In another situation, a woman has been struggling for years to meet the requirements for qualification as a translation consultant. She feels lost in the system and on several occasions, she has said, “Maybe I should just leave it”. This mentee needs to hear several truths, ranging from the fact that not all translation consultants have the same role and that her gifts are acceptable as they are, all the way to something as simple as, “You can do it!” Sometimes the truth needs to focus on a mentee’s strengths rather than growth areas. The  challenge for this mentee is: will she persist and become a consultant? The mentor needs to offer grace, in this case holding her accountable for her own progress and promising to support her until she reaches her goal.

A young man really wanted to become a translation consultant and was working hard to reach this goal. During a mentored session it became obvious that he is lacking in several areas. The members of the team did not fully accept him. It was difficult for him to come to terms with this, but he had to realize that he wasn’t cut out to be a consultant. It would have been a comforting half-truth to say that he could grow to become what he wanted to be. The challenge here is different from the previous two examples. Can he accept that becoming a translation consultant is not possible for him at this time? Grace in his case was shown by his main mentor who allowed him to change his role to one that allows him to work using his strengths and in areas about which he is passionate.

Speaking grace and truth into a mentee’s life isn’t easy: accepting the words of a mentor isn’t easy either. Here are a few guidelines that I have found helpful (this is not an exclusive list):

  • The relationship between a mentor and mentee is one of trust: let your mentee know you care about them.
  • Listen, observe, and ask questions to work out the strengths and challenges of your mentee – these may not be immediately apparent.
  • Be aware of the differences between the mentor’s culture and the mentee’s culture: how are truth and grace spoken in the culture of the mentee?
  • Pray for wisdom and kindness: the delivery of the mentor is as important as the mentor’s words themselves.
  • Allow your mentee time to process what has been said: give her the space to think and pray through your words, to ask questions and to give feedback. Admit if your observations were wrong.

Questions to think about:

  • What are the differences between encouragement and challenge?
  • What are some of the methods we use to speak grace and truth into another person’s life? How would you apply this to mentoring?
  • How do you help your mentee grow?

Photo by Jeremy Bishop on Unsplash

Brain-friendly mentoring

by Eszter Ernst-Kurdi

Eszter Ernst-Kurdi, Training Coordinator, SIL Francophone Africa

Have you ever wondered what makes certain mentoring pairs more performant than others? Do you know colleagues or teams in your organisation that work so well together that it’s a joy to watch what they achieve together?

As I look back on my professional development, I am particularly thankful for two mentors with whom I had the chance to work closely together and experience a mentoring relationship that made us both more performant. What made these two mentoring relationships different was that I found both mentors very safe people. They were open, approachable, authentic and encouraging. They didn’t take themselves too seriously. I could be myself with them. This trust started as we worked together on a bigger project where we met regularly for several weeks. We got to know each other not just in a professional setting but also through activities such as playing volleyball, going out for a coffee, watching football games, going bird watching and eating together. Through these shared experiences we began to learn about each other’s cultures, personalities, families and values. Another thing that helped to build a sense of psychological safety was that both of these mentors took time to listen to me and my ideas even before I knew I wanted to ask them to be my mentors.

In a recent article about performance improvement and the brain, S. Pillay explains that focusing solely on performance in the workplace will not necessarily bring about the results that the organisation wants to see. He highlights that psychological safety and organisational health have a much bigger impact on performance than practicing skills:

Efficient task execution requires brain synchrony which is highly dependent on the quality of attachment between team members.

Movement [eg.: going on walks] can improve cognitive performance.

These findings, I believe, can influence our mentoring practice, too. Betz (2020) also affirms that “the more multi-sensory neural connections we have associated with a behavior or skill, the stronger the pathway becomes by engaging more aspects of the brain.

In the article Neuroscience of Teaching, Mentoring and Coaching, G. Ontai writes:

Teachers, mentors, and coaches who work with adults need to apply personal skills and strategies that focus on emotional mechanisms of how the brain functions.  Whether communications takes place in the classroom, in the privacy of an office, coffee shops, or outdoor venues, developing brain-friendly approaches to motivate or transfer knowledge are significantly improved when mentors are aware [of the neuroscience behind learning]. […] Introducing humor and laughter into the communication process counteracts the effects of stress.  Inserting empathy and caring behavior triggers happy hormones in relationship building which helps to enhance motivation, engagement, and knowledge transfer.

In other words, a mentoring relationship can be more effective, if we apply brain-friendly skills and strategies both for building the relationship and for helping the mentee advance in their professional development plan. These strategies (eg.: humour, empathy, reading body language, accommodating for different information processing styles) will look different in different cultures. In intercultural contexts there is an even bigger need for mentor and mentee to invest time and energy to get to know each other in the beginning of the mentorship in order to create a safe environment where learning is supported by positive emotional mechanisms and where activities are tailored to the learning and processing style(s) of the mentee. This requires sensitivity on both sides but especially from the mentor.

Based on what we are learning from neuroscience, it might be helpful to reflect on how we can apply these brain-friendly strategies in our mentoring relationships. Here are a couple of questions to spark discussion.

Psychological safety

  • What does it mean to each of us in this mentorship – whether it is a one-on-one or a group mentoring situation –  to have a healthy and safe working relationship?
  • How can we reduce the stress often associated with “awkward” initial mentoring meetings?
  • How can we promote psychological safety? What are some simple, practical steps to take?
  • How can we introduce brain-friendly mentoring practices – activities and habits that foster relaxedness, trust and learning – in our mentoring relationships?
  • Are our communication practices and working together clear and synchronised enough to facilitate connection and good performance?

Physical movement

  • Do we know each other’s preferred learning styles? How can we practically take advantage of this in our mentorship?
  • Can we integrate physical movement into our meetings, when and where it’s possible?
  • How can we use physical movement to our advantage?
    • Does my  mentee think more creatively or pay attention more intently or process information better when she is in movement?
    • Can we stay calmer in a difficult conversation when we are walking?
    • Can I listen in a more focused way, if I have something in my hand to hold?
  • Have we integrated appropriate feedback mechanisms that take into consideration the above mentioned points?

This sounds quite daunting, right? My mentor always encourages me saying that mentoring is learned by doing. You don’t have to be an expert at all these things before you can start mentoring. Why not start out in a small way and try out a brain-friendly strategy on a simple mentoring task?

Share your thoughts by leaving a reply below. I look forward to reading about your experiences.

Further resources:

Photo from Pixabay

Get mentoring off the ground!

by Dr Michael Jemphrey

Dr Michael Jemphrey, Robust Mentoring Leader, SIL

Mentoring is a great idea!” — after the Introduction to Mentoring online course everyone is convinced. Everyone would love to have a mentor. However, the reality is that far fewer people feel qualified to be a mentor for others. I think that is common to most of us because we know all too well our own weaknesses.

Yet if we are vulnerable then it helps our mentees to know that they too don’t need to reach the status of PERFECT SUPERMENTOR in order to be of help to others. In fact, as John Updike says:

“Perfectionism is the enemy of creation as extreme self-isolation is the enemy of well-being.”

If we wait for perfection, we will never help anyone. So here are just a few ideas as to how to get mentoring off the ground  in your department or organisation.

Start small and grow in confidence

This can be an informal arrangement of 2 or 3 people who know each other and think they can learn a few different skills from each other. Agree to meet regularly once or twice a month for a few months, establish a small programme,with  someone responsible for sharing a skill each time. Try meeting on Zoom, if you are not close. Be ready to learn together.

Mentor two people at a time

I have tried this out on a few occasions with a couple of translation consultants in training in the same checking session and I really like it! It can be less intense, more relaxed than a one-on-one relationship sometimes is. It has been shown that peer mentees can learn a lot from each other, and can learn from the direction each other receives from the mentor. They can also learn some mentoring skills themselves, if the mentor allows them to give feedback to each other in a safe space.

Structure a mentoring group

Recently an experienced Language Programme Manager approached me saying that she hopes to mentor 20 managers in different countries. Three of the 20 have some limited experience as language programme managers, the rest are just beginning. What a great opportunity! How to face this without being overwhelmed?

As we chatted together we came up with a pyramid system to try out. She will mentor the three more experienced people. They each will mentor the others in small groups. They will all meet together as a larger group every 2-3 months to discuss common topics and difficult questions.

I think this must be something akin to what Moses created in Exodus 18:25-26 when he 

“appointed officials over thousands, hundreds, fifties and tens. They served as judges for the people at all times. The difficult cases they brought to Moses, but the simple ones they decided themselves.”

Reflection questions:

  • What ideas do you have that could help get mentoring off the ground in your context?
  • As a next step, with whom do you need to discuss these ideas?

Photo by Braden Collum on Unsplash

Le mentorat comme levier de motivation et de productivité / Mentoring that boosts motivation and productivity

by Orphée-Marcelle Nogbou

Orphée-Marcelle Nogbou, HR Manager, SIL Côte d’Ivoire

The English translation of the post is just below the French original.
Please scroll down to read it.

L’un des facteurs importants de la compétitivité d’une organisation tient particulièrement à sa capacité à se doter en capital humain. En effet, la qualité de ce capital conditionne sa productivité. C’est pourquoi, il est primordial d’agir sur les facteurs de rétention et de développement de ses ressources humaines au nombre desquels la reconnaissance joue un rôle indispensable.

En encadrant mes plus jeunes frères, j’ai compris que la reconnaissance dans le cadre de l’apprentissage agit comme un facteur de stimulation et de développement des compétences. De ce point de vue, l’expression de la reconnaissance est nécessaire pour atteindre des objectifs de production ou tout simplement des résultats satisfaisants.

En effet, la reconnaissance que l’on accorde au mentoré, dans le cadre de la relation mentorale, crée un environnement de sécurité et de confiance qui conditionne la motivation et le désir de mieux faire. Parallèlement, lorsque le besoin de reconnaissance chez le mentoré est satisfait par le mentor, le mentoré se reconnait comme ayant de la valeur.  Dès lors, le mentorat se pose comme un levier de motivation et de productivité, qui s’appuie, dans un premier temps, sur la reconnaissance, ensuite le renforcement de capacités et enfin le développement de nouvelles compétences.

La reconnaissance

La reconnaissance d’un employé ou collaborateur s’entend comme l’estime et la gratitude de l’organisation vis-à-vis du travail fournit par lui. Ainsi, dès lors que l’organisation, par son représentant, marque un temps d’arrêt pour apprécier, estimer le travail fournit par un employé, elle lui accorde de la reconnaissance. Celle-ci crée chez le tiers une atmosphère de sécurité dans le travail. Par conséquent, l’individu est plus enclin à l’échange, à l’apprentissage, à la découverte. Il naît alors une véritable connexion entre l’individu et l’organisation. Si ce lien est cultivé et solidifié, il ouvre la voie au renforcement de capacités. C’est dans cette relation qu’intervient le mentor.

Le renforcement de capacités

La reconnaissance exprimée met en place le cadre propice à l’apprentissage. Toutefois, elle n’est pas suffisante pour assurer la motivation qui conduit à la productivité. Il faut y ajouter le renforcement de capacités. Les capacités d’une personne sont renforcées lorsque celui acquiert des compétences utiles et solides pour réaliser une tâche spécifique ou tenir un poste clé. Dès lors, ce renforcement de capacité outille l’individu pour être efficace dans l’atteinte des objectifs de l’organisation. La motivation intervient lorsque l’organisation s’engage dans un dialogue régulier pour soutenir et évaluer le développement professionnel à travers des indicateurs et une excellente communication. Le mentorat devient donc l’expression de l’organisation pour encourager, renforcer et suivre les performances professionnelles.

Le développement de nouvelles compétences

Le développement professionnel continu est une nécessité absolue au lieu de travail d’aujourd’hui. Le mentorat joue un rôle clé dans la promotion de l’innovation et du développement.

Dans ce contexte, la motivation est consolidée lorsque le superviseur s’informe des ambitions professionnelles de l’employé. Lorsque le superviseur soutient des objectifs de développement professionnel de son staff, selon les buts de l’organisation, il actionne le mécanisme de développement et de rétention de personnel. Dès lors, le mentorat permet à l’organisation d’offrir des opportunités de développement et de discuter des stratégies possibles. Dans le cadre du mentorat, il est important d’inviter le mentoré à exprimer ses attentes et objectifs en termes de développement professionnel et personnel. En faisant cela, on lui montre de l’intérêt à s’investir lui-même dans l’acquisition des compétences dont il a besoin, et on crée les conditions de la réussite de la relation mentorale. Dans un tel contexte, le mentorat, s’il est bien mené, actionne la reconnaissance de l’individu vis-à-vis de l’organisation qui, elle aussi, en tire un énorme avantage.

Questions de réflexion :

  • Comment pourriez-vous appliquer le mentorat à votre organisation pour le bénéfice de tous ? Quelles actions spécifiques pourriez-vous entreprendre pour atteindre ce but ?
  • En tant que manager ou mentor, quelles mesures spécifiques pourriez-vous prendre pour augmenter le niveau d’engagement et de motivation de votre personnel ?

One of the most important factors in an organization’s competitiveness is its ability to develop its people. The quality of the staff often determines the organisation’s productivity. This is why, I believe, it is essential to find ways to retain and support our staff. Finding meaningful ways to express how much we value people plays a key role in this process.  

When I was helping my younger brothers to study, I understood that recognition in the context of learning enhances the development of skills. In the same way, when an organisation can express its recognition towards its staff, it will lead to better results and higher productivity.

In the context of mentoring, appreciating and valuing one’s mentees creates an environment of security and trust that has a positive effect on their motivation and their desire to do better. When the mentee’s need for recognition is met by the mentor, when the mentee feels truly “seen” by the mentor, the mentee recognizes himself or herself as a valuable person.  Therefore, mentoring can be a tool for increasing motivation and fruitfulness in the workplace because it creates a helpful framework for appreciating people, affirming their skills and helping them to develop new competencies.


Recognition of an employee is understood as the organization’s esteem and gratitude for the work he or she provides. In other words, as soon as the organization, through its representative, takes the time to explicitly appreciate and value the work of a colleague, it grants him/her recognition. This creates an atmosphere of security in the workplace. Consequently, staff will be more open to dialogue, to learn, to discover. A real connection between the individual and the organization is born. If this personal connection is cultivated and strengthened, it opens the way to capacity building. It is in this relationship that the mentor can contribute.

Affirm skills

Affirmation sets the stage for learning. However, it is not enough to ensure the motivation that will lead to productivity. It has to be paired with people development. A person’s capacity is enhanced when he or she acquires useful and robust skills that enable him or her to perform a specific task or to hold a key position. Capacity building equips the individual to be effective in achieving organisational goals. It can be very motivating when the organisation engages in clear and regular dialogue with their staff about their progress and the development of their competencies. Mentoring thus becomes the organization’s expression of encouraging, supporting and monitoring professional development.

Develop new skills

Continuous professional development is a must in today’s workplace. Mentoring plays a key role in promoting innovation and development.

In this context, motivation comes into play when the organization is willing to listen to the employee’s ambitions. When managers support the professional development goals of their staff that align with the organisation’s mission, employees will likely stay in the organisation longer and will be more engaged. Mentoring allows the organization to discuss opportunities for development and possible strategies. It is important to invite mentees to express their expectations and goals in terms of personal and professional development because by doing so we encourage them to invest in their own learning helping them to acquire the skills they need. This dialogue can create the conditions for a successful mentoring relationship. In such a context, mentoring, if it is done well, helps mentees to appreciate their organisation which, in return, can be very beneficial for all parties involved.

For reflection: 

  • How might you implement a mentoring programme in your organisation that benefits everyone? What specific actions can you take to achieve this goal?
  • As a manager or mentor, what concrete steps could you take to increase the level of commitment and motivation of your staff?

Au rythme du mentorat / The Rhythm Of Mentoring

by Yves Léonard

Yves Léonard, Conseiller en traduction, Wycliffe Canada & Seed Company & Société biblique américaine

The English translation of the post is just below the French original. Please scroll down to read it.

Qui d’entre nous ne voudrait pas avoir à ses côtés le soutien d’un défenseur, d’une personne engagée à favoriser sa croissance, son succès et son bien-être ? Et en échange d’un tel appui transformateur, qui d’entre nous serait prêt à en faire autant envers quelqu’un d’autre ?

Un ancien président des États-Unis a dit un jour :

« J’utilise non seulement l’intelligence que je possède, mais aussi celle d’autrui. » (Woodrow Wilson)

Une autre personne a écrit :

« Nous pouvons facilement compter les graines trouvées dans un fruit, mais pouvons-nous compter les fruits qui seront produits grâce à une seule graine ? » (Auteur inconnu)

Il en est de même pour le mentorat, qui est l’application d’une sagesse collective dont les fruits sont innombrables. Pour un mentor, le mentorat est un mécanisme qui lui permet de partager et de mettre au profit d’autrui la connaissance et la sagesse que Dieu lui a permis d’acquérir. Pour le mentoré, le mentorat est une occasion de recevoir une perspective différente, une connaissance et une vision du monde qui enrichiront son être et son empreinte sur ce monde.

Le mentorat s’applique à des disciplines de tous genres, et nous, les conseillers en traduction et les traducteurs, sommes particulièrement ciblés par le devoir de nous aiguiser les uns les autres (Pr. 27.17). L’interdisciplinarité de notre travail nous propulse dans un vaste monde de connaissances et d’applications où la coopération et la collaboration sont les fondements de notre succès. Le mentorat est donc un outil idéal pour accroître cette collaboration et faire avancer la connaissance du Message de Dieu.

Heureusement pour nous, le mentorat existe dans nos sociétés depuis la nuit des temps et sous de nombreuses formes. Par exemple, dans un contexte socioculturel africain, la transmission et l’instruction des valeurs traditionnelles sont souvent basées sur l’observation, la répétition et la participation. Même si nous cherchons à améliorer les techniques du mentorat et à sensibiliser ses utilisateurs quant à son potentiel, nous pouvons aussi bâtir sur les fondations existantes qui nous ont été transmises dans notre propre culture.

Dans le cadre de la traduction de la Bible, le mentorat est souvent perçu comme une activité à court terme pendant les séances de vérification. Cependant, si nous regardons l’ensemble de nos expériences et notre besoin de nous épauler tout au long de notre développement intellectuel et interrelationnel, il nous serait avantageux de voir le mentorat comme un besoin permanent. Le mentorat est rarement exercé sans avoir été planifié d’abord de façon mûrement réfléchie. Tout projet de traduction ferait donc bien d’inclure dans sa structure de base un plan de croissance et de mentorat afin d’encadrer convenablement tout homme et toute femme engagés dans la traduction de la Parole de Dieu.

En plus de maintenir un rapport humain et empathique avec les mentorés, l’un des autres objectifs du mentorat est de les amener à réfléchir et à découvrir eux-mêmes les solutions aux difficultés qu’ils rencontrent. Certes, voilà une tâche subtile qui requiert un savoir-faire bien particulier mais le mentor qui maîtrise cet art du questionnement possède la clé de la réflexion et de la croissance. Ce modèle d’apprentissage est clairement présent dans la rhétorique de Jésus et des auteurs bibliques, qui nous invitent à apprendre d’eux et à suivre leur exemple.

Questions de réflexion :

  • Qu’est-ce que votre propre culture enseigne concernant le mentorat ?
  • Dans votre milieu, qui sont vos mentors et vos mentorés ?

Who among us would not want the support of an advocate, someone committed to our growth, success and well-being? And in return for benefiting from  such support, who among us would not be willing to do the same for someone else? 

Who among us would not want the support of an advocate, someone committed to our growth, success and well-being? And in return for benefiting from  such support, who among us would not be willing to do the same for someone else? 

A former US President once said: 

“I use not only the intelligence I possess, but also that of others. ” (Woodrow Wilson)

Another person wrote: 

“We can easily count the seeds found in a fruit, but can we count the fruits that will be produced from a single seed? ” (Author unknown)

The same can be said of mentoring,  for the application of collective wisdom produces fruit which cannot be counted. For a mentor, mentoring is a tool to share with others the knowledge and wisdom that God has allowed him or her to acquire. For a mentee, mentorship is an opportunity to receive a different perspective, knowledge and worldview that will enrich their being and increase their impact on the world.

Mentoring applies to disciplines of all kinds, and we, as translation consultants and translators  in particular, have the duty to sharpen each other (Pr. 27.17). The interdisciplinary nature of our work propels us into a world of knowledge and applications where cooperation and collaboration are the foundations of our success. Mentoring is an ideal tool to increase this collaboration and advance the knowledge of God’s Message.

Fortunately for us, mentoring has existed in many forms in our societies since time immemorial. For example, in an African socio-cultural context, the transmission and instruction of traditional values is often based on observation, repetition and participation. While we seek to improve mentoring techniques and raise awareness of its potential, we can also build on the existing foundations that have been passed down to us in our own culture.

In the context of Bible translation, mentoring is often seen as a short-term activity during checking sessions. However, if we look at our experiences holistically and our need for support throughout our intellectual and interpersonal development, we would benefit from seeing mentoring as an ongoing need. Mentoring is rarely done without careful planning. Any translation project would therefore do well to include in its basic structure a plan for growth and mentoring in order to properly mentor every man and woman involved in the translation of the Word of God.

In addition to maintaining a friendly and empathetic relationship with mentees, one of the other goals of mentoring is to get them to reflect on and discover for themselves the solutions to the difficulties they face. This is a subtle task that requires a particular skill set, but the mentor who masters this art of questioning holds the key to reflection and growth. This model of learning is clearly present in the rhetoric of Jesus and the biblical authors, who invite us to learn from them and follow their example.

For reflection: 

  • What does your own culture teach about mentoring?
  • In your environment, who are your mentors and mentees?

Online Training in Mentoring

by Dr Michael Jemphrey & Eszter Ernst-Kurdi

Dr Michael Jemphrey & Eszter Ernst-Kurdi, Introduction to Mentoring Course Leaders, SIL

Do mentoring relationships actually work? 

Typically, three out of ten relationships do succeed. But if you train the mentors, then this number rises to six out of ten, and if you train both mentors and mentees, the success rate increases dramatically to nine out of ten (source)! This startling research encouraged us to press forward with a pilot, synchronous online training in mentoring, despite our questions. Would we be able to  make sufficient personal connections in an online environment? Would the internet connections hold for colleagues working in Francophone Africa?

The result was a rich learning experience for staff and participants alike. Some key factors were:

  • A good structure to the training with preparatory work and homework every week in addition to a group zoom meeting to discuss our learnings and questions.
  • A variety of learning tasks in groups of 2, 3 and 5
  • Thorough preparation and teamwork between the instructors and the small-group facilitators
  • Participants from different cultural and professional backgrounds
  • People willing to commit to three hours per week (90 minutes online in live zoom session and 90 minutes offline)

Some testimonials from the participants:

“I really enjoyed the course. It had a good mix of group and individual work, as well as presentations and practical exercises. It was challenging, interesting and I’m sure it will also be very useful. I would recommend the course to anyone who is considering having or becoming a mentor.”

“The course content was very rich; all the resources were available to us and the course was delivered with clarity. Now I know what mentoring is all about and how important it is.”

“This training helped me to discover mentoring as we want to implement it in my organisation. As language program manager, it’s my responsibility to follow the development plan of several people whom I supervise. In their file there is often mention of a mentor and I had no idea what kind of relationship I was supposed to have with the mentor of each of my staff. After this training I now have a clearer vision of how I should work with the respective mentors of my collaborators. I also understood the necessity for me to have a mentor and to look for a mentor for the rest of my staff who do not have one yet.”

If you are interested in taking the course, check out the syllabus and have a look at this page to find out when the next cohorts will take place in English or in French in the coming year. The next cohort in French will start on the 13th January 2021 (very few places left) and the next English cohort will start on the 3rd February 2021.

If you have questions, send us a message using the form below.

Photo by Gerd Altman from Pixabay

Control your inner thoughts and become a more effective mentor

by Stacey Wyse

Stacey Wyse, Director for Coaching and Mentoring, SIL Global HR

I am a practical learner. I strive to put into practice what I am learning. By doing so I seek to solidify my new skills and increase my effectiveness. During a Team Coaching Course, there was a module about Coaching Conversations, where the coach’s inner dialogue during the spoken conversation caught my attention. In your interactions with others, have you ever thought, “That was dumb” or “I can’t believe they did that” or you find yourself figuring out your next question to ask without really listening anymore? When this happens, you really are no longer focused on the person and thus no longer being as effective as you could be.

Thoughts come into our minds so fast and so many of them can be judgmental just like the thoughts mentioned above. As mentors, how can we take those judgmental thoughts captive, and set them aside to be more present with the person we mentor? They can feel our judgmental thought as they see our body language through a sigh, crossing of the arms, a frown, etc.

Consider this: “…we have between 50,000-70,000 thoughts per day, this means between 35 and 48 thoughts per minute per person. The steady flow of thinking is a thick filter between our thoughts and feelings, our head and heart. The constant mental traffic prevents us from seeing clearly, listening deeply.” (50,000 plus thoughts per day) Instead, adjust your mindset to suspend judgment and seek to understand, showing it through your actions.

Take time this week to listen to your inner thoughts and conversations. Take note of your judgmental thoughts and turn them around. For example:

  • When thinking a statement is dumb, ask yourself “What could I learn from this?”.
  • Notice your body language. Instead of sitting back when you have a judgmental thought, change it – lean in and uncross your arms.
  • When thinking, “Why did they do it that way?”  Ask yourself, “How can I seek to understand? Ask them a question, “What would that look like?” or make a request, “Tell me more about that.” 
  • When thinking “That would be impossible!”, ask them “What could you do to make that happen?”.

Are you ready to give it a try? Start this week! Even better, try it with a fellow mentor and compare your notes. Become more effective mentors together.

Here is another article that you might find helpful: How To Improve With Self-Reflection.

Photo by Stacey Wyse

Be careful what you ask…

by Paul Murrell

Paul Murrell, Linguistics Consultant in Training, SIL Central African Republic

“What work would you like to do next year?” I thought our question was a fairly straightforward one, but the stony silence that greeted it suggested otherwise. I was first amused, then bemused and finally completely disorientated as the minutes of silence stretched painfully into an hour and beyond. Determined not to push for an answer or give my own prompts, we sat there in awkward silence until I finally gave in and left the room to collect my thoughts and think through what had gone wrong.

We all know that, like a dash of piment in a chicken stew, a well-timed question in a mentoring relationship can be transformative, but we often forget that when we are working cross-culturally our well-intentioned questions may be communicating unintended or even unhelpful messages. In Congo and the Central African Republic, for example, a question might be used to tease or reprimand. A rhetorical question may be being used to assert authority and issue a command, while a simple question for information could conceal a hidden trap. A translation consultant might get frustrated when their insightful question, “Why did you translate temptation like that?” is met with a flurry of typing and a slightly over-zealous response, “It’s fine, we’ve already changed it.” The same translator might wonder why everything she has done that morning seems to be unsatisfactory, as the stream of questions continues relentlessly. What I mean when I ask a question isn’t necessarily what you understand, so should I even be asking questions at all?

To be honest, it’s hard to imagine an effective mentoring relationship without any questions, but perhaps the key to asking the best questions is taking the time to understand one other and build a relationship of trust. When there is a healthy mutual respect, and good intentions are not only assumed but explicit, a question that could be seen as potentially threatening becomes an opportunity to dig a little deeper, to probe beneath the surface and deal with an issue that could be holding you back. When you trust the surgeon, the scalpel isn’t something to be afraid of, even though it might be painful for a while; you’re going to get better, the problem is going to be dealt with.

So don’t be afraid of questions, but use them carefully. Get to know the culture you’re working in and get to know your mentor/mentee. Maybe begin a session by explaining that when you ask questions you’re not being critical, but that questions are a tool that can help you both grow. Think of alternative ways of asking without using direct questions, and if you need to be a little less blunt, watch an insider to see how it’s done. When you make a mistake and cause offence, like I did, don’t be afraid to apologise and learn from it. After all, mentoring is beneficial for a mentor’s personal growth too, wouldn’t you say?

For reflection:

  • Talk to a friend or colleague about how you feel when someone in authority asks you a question about your work. Share what it is that you find hard, challenging or encouraging.
  • Think about a time when you have asked/been asked a question that was misunderstood. Talk about how you managed to resolve the situation.
  • Next time you meet with your mentee/mentor try to rephrase as many questions as you can using other words. You could use strategies like, “Tell me about your latest piece of work…” or “I’d like to know about how the community responded to last week’s meeting you led…” 
  • A good question is never answered; it is a seed to be planted – John Ciardi. Discuss this quote with two people; somebody you mentor and someone who mentors you. Compare the discussions and draw some conclusions about each relationship. 

Image by Gerd Altman on Pixabay

Matching mentors and mentees

by Dora Carlos

Dora Carlos, Director of Programs, SIL Southern Africa

Some people have had negative experiences in the past in mentoring relationships, which makes them hesitant to sign up for being a mentor or mentee again. However, there are ways to match mentors and mentees well and to support their relationship in a way that makes negative experiences much more unlikely.

In SIL Southern Africa it is the role of the mentoring coordinator to mediate the mentoring relationship. This role could be assumed by a supervisor, too, if there is no mentoring coordinator in the organisation. In my experience, the matching-process can happen in a number of ways:

  • A staff member comes to me as the mentoring coordinator and asks if so and so can be their mentor. I ask them what made them choose that person. If we come to the conclusion that the desired mentor could be a good match, I approach that mentor and ask. So far, I haven’t received a “no” in such a scenario.
  • I have had one mentor who was interested in mentoring a specific mentee. I asked why and then I asked the mentee what he thought about it. That worked well too. 
  • Sometimes I ask a staff member if they are ready to mentor a certain person, because I think the two might be a good match. Reasons might be that I know that the two have a good relationship already; or that they will have a chance to work together closely and to see each other from time to time. This is very important in an organisational unit where we work in 10 different countries, some of which are francophone, others anglophone and lusophone. I will always ask the mentee too before we go ahead with the match. 
  • In one specific case I decided to ask a more advanced consultant-in-training to mentor a newer colleague because they seemed to be a perfect match in terms of personality because their locations were close. This worked out beautifully. I think they are enjoying their relationship immensely and the mentor underlines how much mutual learning is happening. 
  • In a few cases I have asked a mentor from outside our organisational unit. In one case that worked very well because the mentor and the mentee were friends and the mentor was very engaged in the mentoring relationship. In another case, it didn’t work that well because expectations of those involved didn’t match up,  and I didn’t have any leverage, as the mentor was not part of our system. This was some years ago when I hadn’t yet clearly formulated our expectations of mentors and of a mentoring relationship.

Some tips to facilitate the matching process:

  • Our staff know that they will be supported in their mentoring relationship by the mentoring coordinator.
  • The coordinator makes sure that the necessary resources and opportunities to learn and work together are available. This often involves negotiating with partner organisations.
  • Clear guidelines for mentors and mentees are helpful for all parties involved. 
  • Main mentors are responsible for the overall professional development of their mentee but they can be assisted by a couple of session mentors, or competency mentors, if necessary, who offer a variety of practical learning experiences for specific topics. 
  • I recently started to offer Strengths Coaching to our programs staff so that they are more aware of personality differences and can work constructively with them. 
  • In our mentoring program, the responsibility for success doesn’t lie solely with the mentor but also with the mentee and the mentoring coordinator. This takes a lot of pressure off the mentor’s shoulders.

Developing people is a privilege and a calling. It challenges the mentor to grow, too, and is a great way to leave a legacy. Don’t let the past hold you back!

Discussion question:

What strategies do you use for matching mentors and mentees? Leave a comment. We would love to hear from you.

Image by Alexas photos on Pixabay