Sometimes it is a helpful strategy to create a break in the action during a mentoring series. If the two people are meeting every week or two over an extended period of time, the process may start to become a chore for one or both of the participants. This can happen for a number of reasons.
Change in the Pattern of Work
There are natural cycles in any work setting. A relationship that called for one hour per week in March, when not much is going on, might be highly taxing during budget time in November. There can be a special project or other time-consuming issues that make the meetings difficult to conduct.
Be on the alert for these natural situations. One way to tell if it’s time for a break in the action is if one party has to cancel two or three meetings in a row. You can ask the question if the two of you should create a temporary hiatus until the peak period is over.
Another way to tell if you should take a break is the body language of the other person. If you see signs of impatience or time anxiety, you can ask the question if you should schedule a break in the action.
If the material you cover in a mentoring meeting sounds similar to what you have covered in the past, it may be time to take a break. Retracing steps that have been taken before gets old eventually. Be alert for conversations that seem familiar. For some topics, a reminder discussion is helpful to “set the hook deeper,” but if there are several of these, one of the participants needs to call the question.
Running Out of Fresh Material to Discuss
Sometimes you can reach a point where all the vital material has been shared and you are struggling to think of new topics to discuss. That is a clear sign that you should create a break in the action for a while to let both parties rest up and come back later with fresh eyes.
Chemistry Going Away
There is a kind of chemistry going on in any mentoring relationship. Each party needs to be gaining from the effort in order to be willing to continue. Something may have happened that changed the relationship to be less friendly.
For example, suppose the protégé has had a problem with an ethics violation. The mentor could have a difficult time because he no longer has the highest respect for the protégé. Conversely, the mentor may have made a bad judgment call in a discipline situation and the protégé found out about it.
Any mentoring relationship is based on trust and respect. If these elements have been compromised in any way, it may be a good idea to discuss taking a break.
To be sustained, a mentor relationship must maintain its vitality. Be alert for some change in the situation so that you can suggest a different pattern of meeting to keep things fresh.
Bob Whipple, MBA, CPTD, is a consultant, trainer, speaker, and author in the areas of leadership and trust. He is the author of: The Trust Factor: Advanced Leadership for Professionals, Understanding E-Body Language: Building Trust Online, Leading with Trust is Like Sailing Downwind, and Trust in Transition: Navigating Organizational Change. Bob has many years as a senior executive with a Fortune 500 Company and with non-profit organizations.
Identifying when a person is bored seems very simple. The outward signs are pretty obvious and well known.
You need to be careful, however, because the gestures for a person who is fatigued are almost the same as for one who is bored.
Here are some tips to separate the two concepts.
First of all, consider what is going on around the person. If this is hour three of a four-hour lecture on pollution containing hundreds of detailed PowerPoint slides, then when a person has his chin in his palm, it is likely out of boredom.
On the other hand, if a student is holding her head up with her hand, during a lively or funny class, you might want to inquire if she was up all night finishing her paper.
The big difference between fatigue and boredom is in the eyes. A bored person is usually sitting and staring out with a blank stare and heavy, but not closed, eyelids. A tired person usually will have her eyes shut or nearly shut.
If you see a person unable to maintain focus with her eyes, then suspect boredom as the cause. You may also observe a rolling of the eyes with boredom but not fatigue.
The usual position of the hand is for one hand to be propping up the head. Occasionally you may see both hands doing this at the same time, but the predominant gesture is just with one hand.
A person experiencing extreme fatigue will often put his or her head down on the table rather than try to hold it up with a hand.
The telltale sign of a bored person is to yawn. Unfortunately, it is difficult to separate a yawn induced by boredom from one caused by being overtired. It is often the case that both fatigue and boredom may be occurring simultaneously.
It is interesting to observe how infectious yawning is. When a person sees another person yawn, it is common to see the first person yawn within about 10 seconds. You can observe yourself yawning shortly after observing another person doing it. You may even yawn immediately after seeing your dog do it, or vice versa.
The most common forms of boredom occur when people are seated. People who are bored generally lean forward rather than backward. The opposite is often true for people who are fatigued.
Look for fidgeting or doodling as another indication of boredom rather than fatigue. A tired person is trying to sleep, so there is no energy to play with a paperclip or make a paper airplane.
A person who is bored has some energy that is likely to come out in the form of interfacing with a handy object, like a pencil.
What to do
Usually teachers or those who facilitate group activities will see these kinds of gestures.
Obviously if many of the students are exhibiting these kinds of symptoms, you need to take note and call a break or an activity that will get people moving or engaged some other way.
With fatigue, you normally will see the reaction in only one or two people, while boredom can spread over an entire group.
Be alert for the problem and change your methods to keep people engaged. When their outward gestures are extreme enough to see, they are not listening to you anyway.
This is a part in a series of articles on “Body Language” by Bob Whipple “The Trust Ambassador.”
The time out signal is a common hand gesture that is rarely misinterpreted, yet there are some subtle differences in meaning to discuss.
Let’s focus in on the different meanings first and then cover a highly useful application of the gesture in an organization setting.
Please stop talking
If another person is babbling on in a private setting or in a group meeting, you can signal it is time to stop talking and start listening by using the time out signal. This is a helpful use when you are having a hard time getting your points out.
The caveat here is that you would use the gesture sparingly. If you made the motion two or three times, it would most certainly annoy the person who is speaking. It would seem like you are cutting off the person.
Also, this use would be ill-advised if you used it to shut up a superior. If the boss wants to talk, it is usually a good idea to allow it.
I need time to think
When a lot of information is being shared in a steady stream, people sometimes need a break for their brains to catch up with the content. The time out gesture would let the presenter know it is time to at least slow down so all people can understand and absorb the content.
This topic is dangerous
You might warn a fellow worker that to pursue a certain line of reasoning is going to backfire. Rather than interrupt the person verbally, the time out signal will call the question and let the speaker know it would be wise to change the subject. You could accompany the hand signal with facial cues that indicate caution, just be sure to verify the right message was received and was not misinterpreted.
Time for a counterpoint
If one person is landing multiple points in support of a one-sided viewpoint and you want to allow some balance, the time out signal will provide that opportunity without saying any words.
Need a break
If, during a long presentation, you or others need to take a bio break, the time out signal can let the facilitator know it is time to take care of the bodily functions. Also, maybe the group just needs to stretch and take in some oxygen.
Call for a vote
If several arguments have been given on a hotly divided topic and you want to call for a vote, the time out signal can get that message out, even while the conversation is continuing.
Need to caucus
During negotiations, it is often necessary to separate teams to discuss strategy. The time out signal is useful for letting the parties know they need to separate for a while.
We are wasting time
Perhaps the most helpful use of the time out sign is in a meeting situation where one person in the room feels the group is spinning wheels going over the same content or dwelling on trivial content when there are more important things to discuss.
This technique is an excellent way to prevent wasting time, but everyone in the group needs to agree ahead of time that nobody will be punished for showing the time out sign. The idea is to establish a group norm that allows the signal to be given by any individual with no negative repercussions.
It is then up to the leader of the group to acknowledge that at least one person has an issue. The first order of business is to thank the individual for expressing a concern, and then find out what the specific concern is.
It may be that the individual wants the group to take a break, or maybe the person feels the current content is not proper or redundant. Get an accurate description of why the person gave the time out signal. This is done by asking open-ended questions.
The leader would then check if others have the same feeling, and if so, make the change. If the person giving the hand signal is the only person interested in changing direction, then he or she needs to be treated with respect for the input but recognize there are other opinions among the group members.
The time out hand signal is a wonderful tool if used correctly, as described above. If used with a heavy hand or followed by ridicule then significant damage to trust is being done. It is up to leaders to set the tone for the correct usage so the method will be a way to enhance trust and transparency over time.
This is a part in a series of articles on “Body Language” by Bob Whipple “The Trust Ambassador.”