Mentoring 101: How to Engage as a Mentor Through Productive Listening


Community-driven mentorship may be a new concept for some, but we are here to break down the basics.

In short, we believe in the practice and power of mentorship to help both underrepresented talent and professionals advance in their careers. 

In its most basic of forms, community-driven mentorship is a conversation with someone “in the know.” 

While this can sound daunting, we are here to help! In this post, we’ll walk through the basics of community-driven mentorship, including productive listening. This is a foundational element in the practice of mentorship. 

Let’s dive in.

Productive Listening: How to Listen Effectively

Think of a time you felt truly listened to. Where you shared information about yourself, whether it was in a personal or professional setting, and knew that the others participating in the conversation were listening to you. They took the time to wait for you to finish — without jumping in with their own experiences, perspectives, or judgments. 

How did that make you feel? 

For many, the first thing that comes to mind is feeling cared for, feeling validated, feeling respected. 

This is called productive listening. Productive listening inspires trust and loyalty. It is a way to deepen the relationship with your mentee by actively listening to their perspective and keeping an open mind to ultimately provide a service to them through your conversations. 

Types of Listening 

Listening is the foundation of a strong mentoring relationship but must be done effectively. There are typically three types of listening: 

  • Superficial: This type of listening is the kind that provides little to no guidance to the conversation. People may not be paying attention and jump to conclusions before hearing everything someone has to say. 
  • Reactive: Reactive listening is when someone challenges every point you make and can’t seem to “agree to disagree.” They don’t take the time to learn new perspectives and may respond emotionally — driving others away. 
  • Productive: Productive listeners are empathic and trusting individuals that help to resolve ambiguity in conversations, actively listen to what others have to say, and probe at the right times to deepen the conversation. 

As a mentor, you have powerful tools in your toolbox to serve mentees and the community at large. Through productive listening, you can amplify the practice of mentorship as you are seeking to understand the problems your mentees have, not just immediately responding to questions posed by your mentee. 

A few effective techniques for productive listening include:

  • Understanding: Intellectually interpreting what you are hearing. You clarify, paraphrase, probe, and logically understand what is being said. You ask questions or comment to show genuine interest in what they are saying, “That’s great, do you understand how important that role is to organizations?
  • Empathic: Emotionally interpreting what was heard. You engage your feelings in addition to your logic. “I can hear the passion in your voice as you speak about your aspirations.”
  • Active: Deeper exploration of the topic. You assist in finding deeper meaning for both you and the person speaking. You reinforce and constructively challenge the topic and its significance. “Have you considered how you can make more out of this opportunity by putting more effort into the process?”

It takes a lifetime of practice to be a great listener. You need to work hard to get to the crux of the matter with your mentee while allowing them to drive the conversation. Make sure you are probing enough to get a clear picture in order to provide guidance without bias or assumption to truly practice productive listening. 

Start Engaging With Mentor Spaces

We want to encourage all of our community members to create opportunities to listen and engage in the practice of mentorship. 

Actively listening with empathy and providing strategic foresight provides us with a deeper perspective and further understanding. More understanding allows us to better personalize the mentorship experience, which cultivates a more genuine sense of trust, care, and community.
Ready to start engaging? Sign up to be a mentor today.