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How to find an emotionally intelligent mentor

Keep an eye out for these five traits, which tend to signal someone will be a good fit.

How to find an emotionally intelligent mentor
[Photos: Chris Liverani/Unsplash; Paweł Czerwiński/Unsplash]

Everyone wants a good mentor. They can help you get ahead at work, and provide an important sounding board when you’re trying to make a tough decision or deal with a tricky coworker. But finding the right person can be easier said than done. A 2019 study found that while 76% of people believe that mentoring is important, only 37% say they have such a relationship.

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The qualities that we look for in an emotionally intelligent mentor are self-awareness, self-regulation, motivation, empathy and social skills. Research on emotional intelligence and mentoring has found that the greater the EI of the mentor, the more trust the mentee has in them.

So what should you look for to find someone who can help you achieve your professional dreams? These traits are critical:

A high degree of self-awareness

In talking to a potential mentor, you should ask about them not only about their successes but their failures, struggles, and what they learned from them. Mentors with a high degree of EI will openly share their feelings, fears, and doubts but also what they did to overcome them. Beware of someone who appears to have all the answers and pivots away from sharing their vulnerabilities. 

An ability to put their ego aside

A high degree of self-confidence and a healthy ego are necessary for success, but when it comes to mentoring, the mentor’s ego must take a back seat to the needs of the person being mentored. An emotionally intelligent mentor is secure in their own abilities and doesn’t need their ego stroked. When talking to someone who is secure, they will steer away from taking credit themselves for success and instead heap praise upon others, their teams, or their partners. By listening to them, you’ll get the feeling that they receive satisfaction from seeing others succeed. 

An ability to manage their own emotions

Quality mentorship means that there may be times when the relationship will be emotionally charged. The mentee may be making crucial decisions that will impact the rest of their lives and be looking to their mentor for guidance. It’s during these times that the mentee needs someone who is able to manage their emotions and remain objective.

When looking for a mentor, suss out how they have handled emotionally charged situations in their past and what they have learned about themselves in the process. A positive sign is someone who relates a story of how they were able to control themselves during an emotionally charged situation. 

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An ability to help the mentee make their own decisions 

Good mentors offer guidance, support, and different perspectives but ultimately recognize that it is up to their mentee to make their own decisions. After all, they’re not the ones who have to live with the consequences. 

“An emotionally intelligent mentor allows the mentee to lead the conversation and is perceptive to what’s being said and not being said,” says Foram Sheth, chief coaching officer and cofounder of life coaching company Ama La Vida.”A good mentor will ask thought-provoking questions based on observation and active listening to help the mentee explore different possibilities, to uncover blindspots, and help the mentee move from problem to solution.”

When considering a mentor, ask them what you should do in a situation. If they help you probe deeper and further, consider them as a potential candidate. If they tell you directly what you should do, move on and look for someone else. 

A history of service

This goes without saying, but since mentorship is often a free service, look for someone who genuinely enjoys helping others. The best mentors have a history of giving to their families, others and their community. These types of people have the ability to look beyond their own needs and feel a sense of responsibility to give back.

Highly emotionally intelligent mentors will be able to share how it makes them feel to help others. While they may not be incredibly wealthy or successful in all areas of life, good mentors have had success in overcoming barriers. 

Be careful of anyone who is still going through a difficult situation, as they may be looking for someone to commiserate with and may not possess the emotional bandwidth to help you. You need someone who can offer you guidance because they’ve experienced similar struggles, not someone who is stuck themselves. 

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About the author

Harvey Deutschendorf is an emotional intelligence expert, author and speaker. To take the EI Quiz go to theotherkindofsmart.com

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