Pillars of Mentorship

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Danya Khoujah
Danya Khoujah
An emergency physician who is so fascinated by the science of teaching and learning that she completed a faculty development fellowship and a Master’s degree in Education in the Health Professions. Her interests include faculty development, mentoring, and bias in evaluation. In her free time, she loves to cook, travel, and eat.

The Pre-brief

Mindfulness in any relationship enhances gratitude and satisfaction, and mentorship is no exception. Explicitly recognizing the four pillars of mentorship (trust, respect, expectation, communication) strengthens the relationship and makes it more effective.

Mindfulness in relationships, including mentorship, strengthens them in a meaningful and sustainable way. Certainty in the relationship allows both parties to be authentic and focus on growth, rather than waste time in doubts, assumptions, frustrations, and unfulfilled needs. Being explicit about the meaning of these pillars for the mentor and mentee takes only a few minutes of discussion, yet pays dividends in increased effectiveness and satisfaction. Enhancing gratitude and appreciation allows both parties to feel valued and continue to give. It also lays the groundwork for the possible amicable dissolution of the mentorship when the expectations are no longer aligned. 

  • Trust: Trust is having the confidence or faith that the other person has your best interest in mind. 

Practically speaking → when you reach out to your mentor with a question and don’t hear an answer for a few days, trust is interpreting it as “they’re busy”, not as “they don’t care” or “my question is stupid.” 

  • Respect: Respect is recognizing that the other person is an independent individual and has high regard for their wishes, rights, and boundaries. 

Practically speaking → when your mentee does not agree with the advice that you give them, respect is acknowledging their right to their views and not resenting them for “dismissing” your advice. 

Practically speaking → when a potential mentee approaches you for advice about a project they’re working on, clarifying expectations allows you to gauge whether you are able to 1) provide the type of advice they are looking for, and 2) dedicate the amount of time they need.

  • Communication: Bernard Shaw said: “The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place.” Clarity of the method, frequency, and pattern of communication is essential to avoid unnecessary frustrations and assumptions. 

Practically speaking → the mentor/mentee pair should discuss communication logistics that suit them, specifically:

  • Email, text, and/or phone calls (and whether to use work or personal numbers & addresses)
  • Timeframe for communication (e.g. working hours only)
  • Suitable meeting times & location (e.g. work-based meetings vs in social venues)

These pillars are deeply intertwined, as awareness of the expectations, for example, is necessary to respect boundaries, and so on. The specifics of the last two pillars (expectation and communication) can change with time, and the presence of trust and respect creates a space in which they can be easily discussed.  

The Debrief

  • Whether you’re a mentor or mentee, be mindful of the four pillars of mentorship: trust, respect, expectation, and communication.
  • Investing a few minutes to explicitly discuss the relationship expectations and communication logistics will pay dividends in decreased frustration and improved satisfaction. 
  • Expectations and communication may change with time; trust and respect create the space for this discussion to occur smoothly.

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