By TINA VIRMANI
Unemployment, underemployment and adjusting to life in a new country were common challenges for newcomers to Canada long before the onset of COVID-19. However, the pandemic has intensified these issues. Newcomers are experiencing a more unstable job market, adjusting to an entirely virtual job search, and have limited opportunities for making in-person connections in their new communities.
TRIEC Mentoring Partnership has a strong community of mentors committed to supporting newcomer professionals in this difficult phase as they re-establish their careers in the GTA. Both new and experienced mentors have been asking us how they can best offer support and coaching in these times.
While there is no one way to be an effective mentor, joining a mentoring community provides an opportunity to share experiences, exchange ideas and validate your approach to coaching. TRIEC Mentoring Partnership offers a series of webinars and virtual coaching workshops for mentors. One of the most popular sessions is Solutions Focused Coaching. This approach offers insights that are especially relevant in our current reality.
What is Solutions Focused Coaching?
Solutions Focused Coaching is a strengths-based approach focused on collaboration, flexibility and motivation that supports individuals with time-bound and specific goals. It is well-suited to TRIEC Mentoring Partnership, where mentors commit to working with a mentee over a 3-month period.
How can Solutions Focused Coaching help mentors and mentees in a virtual environment?
- Small steps and short-term goals
A core principle of Solutions Focused Coaching is that you don’t need to understand all aspects of a problem to arrive at a solution. This can be unsettling because it goes against our assumptions about problem-solving. How can we propose a solution if we don’t understand the problem that needs to be solved? But Solutions Focused Coaching does not suggest that a mentor should ignore or dismiss their mentee’s problems. It’s about managing time efficiently –guiding the conversation to prioritize solutions that will help mentees achieve their goals.
The “solutions” in Solutions Focused Coaching are specific, realistic and achievable actions. The goal is not to arrive at one exact solution that will resolve all the issues at play. Instead, the focus is on the small steps that an individual can take in the short term to maintain momentum and motivation for the long term.
At a time when we are spending so much of the day online and experiencing” zoom fatigue” making time for a virtual mentoring meeting can feel extra challenging. Focusing the conversation on small steps and short-term goals can help you make more effective use of your meetings, especially on days when your time is limited.
- Asking and Listening
In Solutions Focused Coaching, the mentor and mentee are collaborators who create solutions together. The coach is a catalyst who encourages a shift in perspective.
A solutions-focused coach uses powerful coaching questions to enable this shift. The questions that a mentor asks can encourage their mentee to stay focused on their goals, and explore options that they may have lost sight of. Asking intentional questions can temper common “default” responses, such as the tendency to give advice or explain how we would approach the situation.
Preparing concise questions and adopting active listening techniques strengthens the relationship between mentor and mentee. It helps to build trust, which is critical for a mentoring relationship where time is limited. As newcomers have fewer opportunities to build networks in the GTA, the experience of feeling heard and understood by a mentor is a valuable form of connection. Physical isolation doesn’t have to mean social isolation.
- Focus on Strengths
The Solutions Focused Coaching approach holds that people have the wisdom to pursue their goals, but may require support and encouragement to access that wisdom. During times of stress, we can lose sight of our strengths, which in turn impacts confidence and motivation. Identifying personal strengths is the first step towards finding realistic and achievable solutions. Mentors can use coaching questions to better understand their mentees’ strengths. They can ask about past experiences where they overcame challenges, skills they gained in different roles or the parts of their current job search that have been going well. Anyone that struggles with a lengthy job search will experience a loss of confidence. That most job search activities these days revolve around a computer screen places further strain on motivation and energy. Affirming mentees’ strengths helps them regain confidence and find solutions that are authentic to these strengths.
- Actionable Steps
Supporting mentees to maintain momentum in their job search has been a prominent topic for our mentors this year. Solutions Focused Coaching encourages mentees to set short-term, actionable steps to continue to make progress in challenging times. Progress can look like an opportunity to hone existing strengths, develop less utilized skills, build knowledge, or any other ideas that mentors and mentees identify in their conversations. The important part is getting started and then reflecting as you go. This approach is based on the notion that “a small change can turn into larger changes.”
Mentors can support their mentees to set achievable goals within a timeframe that works for them. What small steps are achievable between one meeting and the next? What is achievable in the next two weeks or months? Given the multiple demands and stressors that both mentors and mentees are experiencing during this pandemic, looking for small steps is also a way to practice self-compassion and protect our mental health.
Being flexible and adaptable has been key to navigating life in a pandemic, but it is just as important to honor our capacity and that of others, especially for building supportive relationships. The many “pivots” we have been making over the last year can take up a lot of energy. While we receive a lot of messages about self-care and work-life balance it’s not always clear how to put these ideas into practice. Solutions Focused Coaching offers some practical tips to connect with others and offer support in ways that are manageable and meaningful.
Tina Virmani is the Learning Specialist for the TRIEC Mentoring Partnership, a program that links newcomers to Canada with a mentor who is established in their field. She holds a Ph.D. in Politics from York University, Toronto.