Maybe it's your first visit with a new mentee, maybe it's your 50th and something is off today. Whatever the reason, sometimes your mentee may seem distant or uninterested. But what happens now? Is this what mentoring looks like? Surprisingly, yes, sometimes it does. Here are three things to keep in mind when your mentee isn't saying a word (and three ways to make progress.)
1) First impressions are hard
Between classes, homework, and even just waking up in the morning, school can be a hassle for anyone. Perhaps your mentee simply isn't having a good day today, or may even just be tired. After all, we've all had our groggy mornings, and our mentees are no different. Being silent doesn't always mean they don't care, just that they may need some "quiet time" today. This doesn't mean you need to remain silent however, and some days you may need to take the lead and hold the conversation. Keeping things light and digestible with some simple, no-brainer topics may be just what your mentee needs in the morning. One mentee related this to grownups needing their morning coffee, and we all know how chipper we are without our morning coffee right?
2) They may be shy
It's not easy putting yourself out there, especially when meeting someone for the first time. It can be easy to mistake shyness for disinterest. When your mentee isn't feeling chatty, try to make it worth their while and "talk for them." Keep the energy (and interest) up by asking about their interests, hobbies, or goals, and seeing if you can find common ground or something that piques their interest.
3) They're listening, even if it might not seem like it
It might feel disheartening to come see your mentee only to be met with silence, but don't take this to mean they are ignoring you. As mentors have found in the past, just because a mentee isn't talking, doesn't mean they aren't listening. Keep the atmosphere lively, and be ready for them to jump in when they are ready.
What Do I Do Now?
We understand you want to move past the silent treatment to show your mentee how much you care for them. But what can you do if you feel like you've hit a wall? iC.A.R.E. Director Jonathan Greer has a few pieces of advice for the mentor looking to get more dialogue out of their sessions:
Give it time, they may just need to become more comfortable with you.
Rome wasn't built in a day, and relationships are no different. Your mentee may be making the (from their perspective) best choice and taking a "wait-and-see" approach. This can leave you feeling like you aren't making progress, but that's not necessarily true! This can be a crucial time in your relational development in proving to your mentee you are authentic and here for them.
Use the materials provided in your mentor packet
Know you're never mentoring alone at iC.A.R.E. Your coordinators are here to provide you with support every step of the way, and that starts from day one with the materials in your mentor packet. Tip sheets like the “10 hints for handling sensitive situations” are an excellent resource for finding common ground, and handling topics you might be unfamiliar with. The Mentor and Mentee Expectation Worksheets are another great tool for establishing what you are both comfortable with discussing, and what's off the table.
Play a game, but have them choose
There's no ice breaker like a fun game. Gently try to get your mentee out of their shell with a friendly game. Instead of calling the shots (and letting them say nothing) give them a few options for games. The key is to have them choose. Give them a sense of ownership, and a reason to interact with you. Of course, games can be more than just board games. Mentors can play charades, pantomime, draw or color sheets, or even break out a puzzle. We have several coloring pages for elementary students, as well as some advanced versions for middle and high school students.