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MicroMentor allows people to connect with entrepreneurs and business mentors from all over the world. It can be challenging to build a relationship without the benefit of meeting each other in person. That said, distance mentoring can be both fun and productive.
Here are seven ways to make distance mentoring more effective:
- Allow time to build the relationship. Distance relationships tend to grow at a slower pace than face-to-face relationships. Without meeting in person, it can take more effort to get comfortable and build trust. Be patient but consistent as you establish expectations in your new mentoring relationship.
- Plan ahead. Schedule mentoring meetings in advance. Avoid canceling a meeting unless there is an emergency, and reschedule immediately if necessary. Consider creating and sharing an agenda in advance, making sure to start and end on time, and summarizing the discussion and agreements before ending the meeting.
- Listen actively and avoid interruptions. If your mentoring meetings will be on the phone, active listening is especially important. Sharpen your sensitivity to subtle changes in tone of voice and pace of speech. To avoid misinterpreting each other, frequently check to ensure that you're in agreement. Eliminate distractions by turning away from your computer and preventing interruptions from co-workers. During your phone calls, give the other person your complete focus.
- Use technology for better communication. Video chat solutions like Skype and Google Hangouts allow you to develop a more personal connection. Vary your communication styles to see what style works best for the relationship.
- Take extra time to understand how business and culture are different where the other person lives. A few well-placed questions can go a long way. For mentors, try to understand what makes the customers in the entrepreneur’s market unique, as well as the problems the entrepreneur’s business is trying to solve for these customers. Both parties should pay attention to differences in culture and communication styles. If you're unsure, look up the person's country in this Cultural Dimensions Tool to learn about how they may think and act differently than where you live.
- Anticipate needing to manage communication across time zones. Even though it seems like a simple calculation, you’d be surprised how easy it is to make a mistake measuring the time difference, especially with Daylight Savings Time. Double check your math to avoid missing a meeting or calling at an inappropriate time. Expect that the cycle of e-mails will be slower, especially when crossing oceans. To create even more clarity, propose meeting times in the other person’s time zone.
- Rely more on writing to clarify details not understood in conversation. Whether due to internet connection or language barrier, some finer points won’t remain crystal clear at the end of the conversation. This is where a follow-up by e-mail is extra important—shoot a note to recap what you took away from the meeting, and make sure you are both on the same page.
- The Mentoring Group, Eight ways to make Distance Mentoring more effective (2003).