Use mentoring to build soft skills

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Written by Laura Francis on 18 March 2020

Reading time: 3 minutes

The need for soft skills in the workplace continues to be a topic of interest and concern for individuals and organisations – for good reason.

In LinkedIn’s 2019 Global Talent Trends report, 92% of talent professionals said that soft skills matter as much or more than hard skills when it comes to hiring someone.

As Suman Agarwal said in her August 2019 TJ feature: “While hard skills are necessary to get an opportunity, soft skills are critical to making it big in any career.”

So how can you build soft skills such as empathy, listening, flexibility, creativity, persuasion, and collaboration – all of which can impact your career and how you do your job?

Try developing these skills within the interpersonal framework of a mentoring relationship. Here are three examples for how you can do so.

1. Communication skills

Mentoring relationships allow people to share their feelings about different topics at hand or other critical aspects of their developmental goals, creating a safe place to explore and express emotions.

These relationships also encourage discussion through open-ended questions that require more descriptive answers than just yes or no, which in turn causes people to dive deeper into their own thoughts, feelings, and opinions.

Build the skill: Try this yourself by asking open-ended questions of your mentoring partner and by probing into some of the opinions and feelings being expressed.

Ask why they took a certain action or believe a particular outcome will occur. Whatever the situation presents, dig deeper through meaningful conversations.

Concentrate on what your partner is trying to convey, instead of preparing your response as the person is still talking

2. Listening skills

Mentoring relationships rely heavily on good listening skills. People need to actively listen for what is being said, but also for what is not being said.

This can lead to learning opportunities, breakthroughs, and moments of personal and professional growth.

Build the skill: To try this yourself, focus on the thoughts, ideas and feelings being communicated by your mentoring partner.

Really try to be present for them and concentrate on what your partner is trying to convey, instead of preparing your response as the person is still talking.

3. Empathy

Good mentoring relationships help people build empathy, often by forging a bond and connection between partners that helps them learn how to put themselves in one another’s situation and imagine how they would feel and react.

As people build this skill within the safety of a mentoring relationship, they can then begin to apply it in other work situations.

In fact, empathy can be used to learn from failure, build better communication skills, and develop active listening skills.



Build the skill: When others are talking, think about what they are saying about their motives, experiences, and feelings.

A lot of what a person communicates is not on the surface, so you must tune your senses to intuit the deeper message that is being sent. Empathy will help you make sense of these subtleties.

Mentoring relationships thrive when people have genuine and honest conversations with one another.

When mentees and mentors are open with each another and show vulnerability to one another, they in turn work on honing soft skills such as empathy, listening, collaboration, and creativity.

Here’s hoping you can be brave in mentoring as you build these critical soft skills.


About the author

Laura Francis is chief knowledge officer at River

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