Using Mentoring to Develop the Professional Safe Space

Why Do We Need a Safe Space?

We have often read about the concepts of building professional trust in the workplace, but do you ever ask yourself what that really means? When entering a mentoring relationship, the concept of building trust must go way beyond the six steps we will discuss later. While one of the main reasons for a mentoring relationship is to give advice, a safe zone speaks to the environment we create for our mentees to speak openly and honestly. So clearly, trust is more than a matter of six steps; the mentoring safe place is the area you create for your mentee to divulge and share key challenges and obstacles that they need you to help them move beyond, without the concern of retribution or repercussion.
With so many challenges and many in need of mentoring, why is the safe space so coveted in organizations?

Developing Trust, but Still Coveting a “Safe Space”

Expressing the need for a safe place is sometimes part of the beginning dialogue between the mentor and mentee. When we come to understand the six steps of trust we believe we are ready to engage in meaningful dialogue. However, the six steps: (1) building positive relationships; (2) stop competing; (3) throwing others a bone; (4) being balanced; (5) tracking your commitments; (6) accepting blame and sharing credit, do not include the inclusion of a safe place.
To add further, the dictionary description of trust is “the belief that someone is being truthful.” Stephen M. R. Covey defines trust as “both character (who you are) and competence (your strengths and the results you produce).” So as a mentor, these are the qualities you should be reconciling within yourself. Are you being truthful when you tell your mentee, “you can trust me”?
Trust is the true currency of mentoring; this is the platform by which real relationships are formed, and real dialogue can be exchanged. This caused me to think about the way we create a safe place to allow people to share things with us. This got me thinking about what mentors and mentees share with me about their relationships, and why they work.

Why Mentoring Works with a Safe Place Intact

A solid mentoring relationship is built by developing trust over a period. However, in some cases the mentoring engagement may be short, so it is important to start off with “swift trust”, which I have mentioned in previous blogs. Swift trust is a form of trust occurring in temporary organizational structures, which can include quick starting groups or teams. It was first explored by Debra Meyerson and her colleagues in 1996. In swift trust theory, a group or team assumes trust initially, and later verifies and adjusts trust beliefs accordingly.

In deciding to use this approach, the safe place is established more readily, and accounts for adjustments that may need to be made in short-term mentoring relationships.

In mentoring, key challenges get discussed in the safe place to include: expressing emotions, dealing with difficulty, taking risks, and building relationships. Trust grows slowly and almost naturally the longer you spend time in the safe place, and nurturing the mentoring relationship. To move the development of the safe place and trust along, a couple of tips can be useful:

  • Get to know the whole person
  • Build momentum early
  • Look for small wins
  • Build your mentor skills
  • Maintain confidentiality
  • Be patient

A Final Thought

Undoubtedly, the issues that you will be discussing with your mentee and mentor will be complex at times. As mentors we are the givers, we want to provide meaningful information to make a difference in someone’s life. Therefore, it is important to provide a safe, trusting space for your mentee while they are visiting during the engagement, to divulge and share real life challenges, and work through professional obstacles.

I believe the safe place is key to the success of a mentoring relationship. While I have not always encountered it in my own professional career, I wish it for others, and strive to provide it for all those who come to me to discuss complex situations. Trust is something that is built over time, but can be lost forever if it is not valued by all parties involved.
If you or your organization would like to find out more about adult professional mentoring, and how a mentoring program can help bridge the gaps experienced from missing employee engagement please reach out and connect with us at Coley & Associates. We are here to help move your organization forward, and we are passionate about what we do and committed to making a positive difference in our customers’ businesses and the world around us.

By Janet Williams

As Director of Human Capital and Performance Consulting for Coley & Associates, Dr. Janet E. Williams provides Government clients and commercial companies insight on how to leverage resources and maximize services for improvements to company operations. She specializes in mentoring, progressive management process improvements, accountability and control, revenue enhancements, and other organizational change methods. For almost 20 years, Dr. Williams worked in government and head an Emerging Leaders Program for mentoring youth. Janet holds a bachelor’s degree in Accounting from Hampton University a MBA from Troy State University, and her doctorate in Public Policy and Leadership from Walden University.

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