Professional Possibilities Are Revealed Through Exploration Conversations


Mentoring and Navigating the Path Forward to Growth & Success

Life is a journey! A constant search for growth and success. We learn by observing people with more experience, maturity, and usually in a position of authority. We look to role models who have arrived at a certain point in their lives that we’d like to see ourselves in the same place one day. 

It’s no different in our professional lives but instead of role models we have mentors. Contrary to what one might think, the two roles and the purpose they serve are quite different. A role model is observed and not actively engaged in a reciprocal relationship. A mentor however is. The mentor and mentee form a partnership that is mutually beneficial. They engage through a series of conversations that evolve over time as progress is made at varying stages. When we begin our careers, we look to other professionals surrounding us in the workplace with more experience and higher skill sets, who are generally further along in their careers or a position of authority.    

Awareness conversations are the foundation

The mentor and mentee build a rapport and trust over their initial interactions and conversations. They ask open-ended questions that facilitate getting to know each other by discovering similar interests and eventually develop a sense of familiarity and trust. Once trust is established the mentor and mentee can comfortably begin to dive in and determine the direction in which they choose to head. This is the point in time when a mentor and mentee turn to exploration conversations, where they start to brainstorm ideas while concentrating and honing in on the goals they’ve set forth. They look to find ways in which to reach them. 

The possibilities only build and grow from there

This stage in the mentoring process starts with expanding horizons and examining different routes that could lead to desirable results. Therefore, exploring alternatives and different developmental approaches throughout your mentoring relationship is advisable. Discussing alternatives and exploring potential scenarios opens up novel ideas and innovative ways to achieve results and ultimately lead to success. 

Examining a wealth of options before deciding to narrow choices requires time and patience. It is highly encouraged that the mentee keeps an open mind and remains flexible to discover paths less traveled previously. By diverging from the ordinary or known path of options, you increase the likelihood of creating unique potential. 

What is a change or challenge the mentee would like to overcome? 

“We fear an unknown outcome more than we do a known bad one,” Alex Lickerman, Ph.D. wrote in a piece for Psychology Today. “What if I don’t like this new dish? What if that foreign country is dangerous? If you think about it, most of the things we fear don’t actually come to pass. What’s more, we’re often unable to anticipate the good things that do occur as a result of our trying something new.” He also noted that trying new things forces us to grow and challenge our perceptions; 

Confidence increases by investing in discovering different alternatives and finding those that show promise. It all starts with expanding horizons and examining different avenues that may lead to success—adding to self-knowledge and greater awareness of realistic possibilities. Exploring alternatives and different developmental paths throughout a mentoring relationship can invigorate and inspire growth when new and better ways are discovered. 

Best practice recommendations for exploration conversations.

  • Generate Possibilities – Brainstorm ideas, extend known options, be flexible and remain open to discover new avenues for consideration. By diverging from the common or known path of options, you increase the likelihood of innovating or creating unique potential.
  • Determine Value – Discuss what appeals, fits, or seems most appropriate for each option. Then research and investigate to begin to form a clearer opinion.
  • Narrow Options – Establish criteria and clarify objectives and intents to help you narrow your field of options. By identifying actionable paths for collaboration, you gain focus and increase the likelihood of generating productive conversation.

Indicators that the time is right for an exploratory conversation.

  • When you are oriented (know where you are) but don’t know where you want to end up
  • When no current option seems appropriate
  • When there are too few or too many possibilities When you want to challenge assumptions
  • When you are about to repeat a worn-out pattern

Exploration conversations aim to generate possibilities and narrow the options to the most practical. Therefore, it’s best to separate the activities and add to the opportunities that hold promise. Then, spend some time examining each option before narrowing your choices to a select few. 

Helpful Questions: 

These exploring questions are intended to help you consider available paths of action and qualify viable choices.

  • What have others done?
  • What are the different directions we could move in?
  • What new understanding can we gain?
  • What are the top three considerations?
  • Which ones hold the most promise?

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