Overcoming Mentee Self-Doubt

Ever encountered self-doubt from your mentee and wondered how to tackle it? Here are positive and productive ways to help.

Focus on mentoring: Helping entrepreneurs to overcome self doubt

As a business mentor have you ever encountered self-doubt from your mentee and wondered how to tackle it? John Cull, YBI’s mentoring consultant, explores the issues and suggests ways a mentor can help their client in a positive and productive way.

In a recent study of mentors and coaches Lynne Hindmarch, Organisational Behaviour Specialist, stated that over 50% had said their clients had experienced self-doubt. Furthermore, it was suggested that self-doubt and self-esteem are at different ends of the same continuum. Self-doubt reflects concerns over one’s abilities whilst low esteem is more connected with a negative outlook of oneself as a person.

Role of the mentor

Becoming an entrepreneur is one of the most challenging ‘jobs’ a person might choose. It is therefore, little wonder that the mentee will show signs of self-doubt from time to time. However, there are ways in which a mentor can help.

1. Relationship between mentor and mentee

What mentees value most is the nature of the relationship with their mentor and of being present in a safe environment. Mentors see their mentee’s in a positive light and believe in them. It suggests that the most important element is positive affirmation of them as people resulting in the mentee feeling positive about, and valuing themselves. Mentoring young people in issues of self-doubt is no different than mentoring in other scenarios. However, what is important where self-doubt is present is for the mentor to communicate their empathic understanding and positive support clearly and explicitly.

2. Control

When mentees feel powerless, explore whether this is a realistic assessment of the situation or is based on a belief, in which case it can be challenged. It may be possible to examine areas where the mentee DOES have control and look for options to increase this.

3. Expressing feelings of self-doubt

Mentees need a safe place where the mentee can fully express their feelings of self-doubt and where the mentor’s skill can be best used in drawing out
what may be the underlying issues. The mentor may also need to be aware that men may take longer to express feelings of self-doubt and that gentle
probing may be required. Finally, do be sensitive to the dangers of projecting self-doubt onto the mentee, particularly if it is something that the mentor has
experienced themselves.

4. Keeping self-doubt hidden

It may also be worthwhile to explore how self-doubt is expressed in other relationships i.e. at home, programme manager, bank manager. The consequences of revealing negative emotions could be discussed in the light of how ‘others’ may behave and the possible effects on business survivability and sustainability.

5. Listening to the language used

Mentees often use ‘rich’ language in describing their feeling of self-doubt. By listening carefully to the metaphors used, the mentor is able to gain a greater
insight into the mentee’s felt experience. It may also be possible to help change their mentee’s thinking by suggesting they use metaphors to reframe their experience in a more positive way.

6. Staying person–focused

The skill of listening is central in creating a positive mentoring environment. The mentor has a choice between operating task-focused or person-focused. The balance needs to be greater toward the person. Why? Often a problem may be created by personal issues that affect the business. Here the mentor needs to show empathy to encourage the mentee to talk openly about what is causing the blockage. Once the issue is clear, the greater the opportunity for finding a solution.

A model that can help the mentor is to:

Look interested: how do you show you are interested? Good mentoring is about giving your undivided attention to the mentee.
Inquire with questions: ask open questions i.e. those that start with what, why, where, when, who and how.
Stay alert: look for opportunities to probe what happened and seek as much information from the client as possible.
Test understanding: When the mentor is spending 70% of their time listening, it is important to ‘play back’ what is heard to ensure the picture as presented by the client is a clear one.
Empathise: This is a key skill and is used to show that the mentors do not just listen to the facts but to the feelings behind the facts. A useful technique is to use the must word; “I can understand that it must have been very upsetting for you when you had to cancel your holiday at short notice.”
Neutralise your feelings: As a mentor, it is important that our thoughts and emotions are held in check because of the signals that it can send.

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