By Pia Prip Hansen
Trust is the glue that holds relationships and organisations together, and trust is one of the most important elements in the mentor/mentee relationship. A successful relationship between a mentor and a mentee requires a high degree of trust from both parties. Setting up the right mentor/mentee relationship involves creating a safe and supportive environment where both mentor and mentee can engage in building trust, setting goals and achieving them.
Traditionally, trust develops gradually over time and is a result of personal knowledge and cognitive assessment of another person’s behaviour. Credibility is created through our track record of openness and experiences with each other. Since mentors and mentees do not know each other prior to the beginning of their mentoring relationship, they lack the foundation for building traditional trust. When trust must develop quickly because of time constraints – for example in a mentoring relationship – we talk about developing trust swiftly, thus calling it swift trust (Meyerson, Weick, and Kramer, 1996).
What is swift trust?
Swift trust is a form of trust that occurs in temporary groups or relationships who have a “finite life span, formed around a shared and relatively clear goal or purpose, and their success depends on a tight and coordinated coupling of activity.” (Meyerson, Weick, and Kramer, 1996).
Swift trust is a unique form of trust that occurs in temporal tasks groups and in temporal relationships like the mentoring relationship that require that participants come to trust each other quickly and in the absence of pre-existing relationships. Swift trust occurs when you decide to trust a person with whom you have no prior history, and thus accept that there is a risk associated with it.
In order to start sharing knowledge at the beginning of a mentoring relationship there is a need for a certain level of trust between mentor and mentee. The challenge is that you do not know whether the other person can be trusted. Swift trust differs from traditional trust by being based on a role dimension. Therefore, the other person will be trusted based on the role rather than on interpersonal relationships, meaning mentee will trust mentor because of his/her role as mentor and/or leader, and not as traditional trust based on prior relations or experiences.
Mentoring – It’s all about trust
Setting up the right mentor/mentee relationship involves creating a safe and supportive environment where both mentor and mentee can engage in building trust, setting goals and achieving them. Successful mentoring relationships absolutely depend on trust.
As mentor/mentee relationships often are established between people who have little or no prior experience with each other, this is a barrier to developing traditional trust. Understanding these barriers is critical to understand how these barriers can be overcome. Fear of disclosure and deliberate withholding of information can be a powerful inhibitor for the formation of trust between mentor and mentee.
Trusting another person involves risk because it is unknown whether the other party can be trusted or not. Therefore, one must be willing to take that risk.
As more and more mentor/mentee meetings become virtual, technological barriers like fear of technical breakdown, lack of technical skills combined feeling uncomfortable in the virtual space can also play a role when establishing a trustful relationship. It is therefore critical that the online tools are easily and user-friendly. The faster mentor and mentee can develop a high level of trust, the more likely they will have a successful mentoring relationship.
Key factors in establishing swift trust between mentor and mentee
Source: Searle, Nienaber, Sitkin, Swift trust, Routledge, 2018
- Your abilities and natural inclination to trust other people.
- Focus on task rather than emotion – respect for and expectations of the other person’s professionalism and integrity is more important than personality.
- Dare to open personal topics increases the creation of swift trust and strengthens knowledge sharing and task reading.
- The framework and task are clearly communicated.
- To establish norms for communication and behaviour – roles and responsibilities.
The two last points are especially important for the mentoring programme manager in designing and implementing the mentoring programme.
Relationships also grow over time
At the beginning of a successful mentoring relationship, swift trust is established within the moment and paves the way for meaningful dialogues. This is the first step on the path to long-lasting trust, which requires the relationship to be maintained by both mentor and mentee. Over time the trust between mentor and mentee is develops and as both mentor and mentee open up to each other, traditional trust – knowledge-based trust emerges – and can form the basis for a long-lasting relationship, much longer than the formal mentoring programme.