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When asked to reflect on relationships that have made a difference in their lives, many people think about their mentoring relationships. However, like other work and personal relationships, mentoring relationships fall along a continuum ranging from high quality to dysfunctional. Research has shown that one determining attribute of high quality mentoring relationships is mutuality.  The best mentoring happens when there is a mutual investment in the relationship by both partners.

What do we mean by mutuality?

Mutuality is at the core of a relational mentoring approach – a reciprocal, two-way learning relationship based on the concept of mutual influence that is described as ‘power with’ versus ‘power over’. This approach de-emphasizes the power associated with a person’s position or identity group and focuses on what’s possible for both partners.

Action: Invite feedback. Both partners take the opportunity to engage in intentional change behaviors and ask each other for feedback.

Although the overall level of expertise between the mentor and mentee may be asymmetrical with the mentor being more experienced or having more knowledge than the mentee, the mentee can also empower or enable the mentor to develop new forms of knowledge and skills. Since mentoring is about learning, both partners can identify opportunities.

Action: Set goals. Both mentees and mentors establish goals to guide the direction and learning within their partnership.

Relational mentoring fosters the expansive possibilities for mutual learning and growth. High-quality mentoring relationships are not only built on relational skills, they may also generate the relational skills needed to build other high-quality relationships.

Action: Talk about relationship. Make the performance of your mentoring relationship part of your regular check-ins on progress towards goals.

In organizations, real power and energy is generated through relationships. The patterns of relationships and the capacities to form them are more important than tasks, functions, roles, and positions.

Margaret Wheatley, Global Influencer – Leadership & Social Change

Relationships are what make the world go round, so the saying goes. That’s why I’m passionate about mentoring. If we can learn about high-quality relationships within a mentoring context, these skills can be carried into all aspects of our lives, influencing our ability to develop other high-quality relationships. Mutuality matters. After all, it’s a two way street.

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