7 Words and Phrases That Matter Most When Mentoring

November-December 2020
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Our words matter. Words convey our thoughts and feelings. Words are the heartbeat of our relationships. They can devastate relationships and they can save them. Words have the power to be uplifting and they can also be deeply hurtful. 

Words also have the power to help people rise, not fall. 

I can still remember powerful words from one of my mentors when I was at a difficult career crossroads. “What’s stopping you?” she asked me. It was the way she phrased it that made me stop and think about the barriers and what was preventing me from taking the next step. She didn’t tell me what to do, she made me reflect to consider the best path forward. 

That experience — those words — stayed with me, as have many other phrases throughout my career that have helped me take important action and move forward.

Our agency has a long-term, development-focused mentoring culture. We’ve prioritized building a culture of learning — an important effort in a fast-paced agency environment where our teams must be always on their toes, always asking questions. We know they want to feel supported, and add value. They also want open and honest communication. 

That’s why the words we use and how we use them matter immensely — especially when it comes to the colleagues we are mentoring. And when the words are backed up by action, they can be powerful, inspirational and motivational.

Here are seven phrases we use to help our team grow in her or his role at the agency:

1. “I trust you.”

I read somewhere that “I love you,” are the most powerful words in the English language. “I trust you,” might be the equivalent in the workplace. The statement is empowering, but it needs to be backed up by trusting the person to approach a task in the way they would do it — even if it’s not the same way we would. Taking this step has helped our team have frank discussions, especially afterward, when we dissect what worked and what didn’t work, and prove that there’s more than one way to solve a problem.

2. “We, not me.”

Our team is focused on a supportive culture where team members do not feel alone. It’s one thing to say that you embrace a “we” culture; it’s another to demonstrate it by dropping everything to lean in and help a co-worker complete a project. It also emphasizes that it’s not a weakness to ask for help.

3. “What do you think?”

In a profession with many looming deadlines hitting at once, an easier path is to tell a co-worker exactly how to do something. Instead, try asking them what they think. It can be a game changer — you are training them to think on their own and giving them the confidence they need.

4. “Mean what you say (and say what you mean).”

Don’t give advice or ask questions for the sake of saying something. Ask because you have a genuine interest in your co-worker improving and growing — it’s pretty straightforward stuff.

5. “What’s your biggest challenge right now?”

This question allows you to discover what is preventing a co-worker from accomplishing a task. Another way to frame it is to ask, “What is the most difficult thing you are working on?”

6. “Who is responsible?”

Identifying roles and responsibilities for every action item, even on small teams and projects, is important. Taking ownership of a project is a much bigger task than completing a portion of a task. In our internal team meetings, we routinely align on roles and responsibilities along with deadlines. Going through the process allows a team member to take ownership and also be in a position to ask for help.

7. “What can I do better? Do you feel supported?”

We have a strengths-based leadership approach that leverages and amplifies how an individual shines, as opposed to focusing on where they fall short. Each member of our team approaches tasks in a unique way, which means how we support each person is vastly different. Take time to ask your team if they feel supported and what you can do differently and better to help them. It can go a long way.

As PR professionals, we painstakingly choose the words we use to convey important content on behalf of our clients, brands and organizations. In our personal lives, we carefully choose the words we use to guide our children and speak to our significant others. At work, we have an incredible opportunity to help our team grow and be successful by intentionally selecting the language we use.  

What words or phrases are you using? Drop me a line at bcastellini@wordsworthweb.com.

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