Allison McWilliams: Building trust

Allison McWilliams, director of mentoring and alumni personal and career development in the Office of Personal and Career Development, will write occasional articles in 2015-2016 for Inside WFU.  This is her third for the academic year.  In each, she shares observations and suggestions with faculty and staff drawn from her professional experience with students.

Allison McWilliams, the Director of Career Education in the Wake Forest Office of Personal and Career Development on Monday, October 10, 2011.

A key element of any effective mentoring relationship is the actual relationship part. And a crucial part of any effective relationship, whether it is a friendship, a romantic partnership, a work relationship, or a mentorship, is the ability to build trust between the partners.

What is the challenge in building trust? A recent study by the Pew Research Center found that this generation of students is “relatively unattached to organized politics and religion, linked by social media, burdened by debt, distrustful of people, in no rush to marry— and optimistic about the future.” Another study notes, “If a college degree is no longer the golden ticket it once was and the economic system can’t be trusted to provide success, millennials are primed to use their skills—whatever their source—to create opportunities for themselves.” They don’t trust the system and they don’t trust other people. So how can you build trust for an effective mentoring relationship?

There are three specific ways that you can build trust:

  1. Keep your word. Follow through on commitments, show up to agreed-upon meetings on time and ready to be present in conversations, and do what you say you will do. Each of these demonstrates through concrete actions that you are a person of your word, committed to the relationship, and someone who can be trusted.
  1. Keep confidences. Keep conversations confidential (except when there is concern for harm) and focused on the student’s goals, not your own. This demonstrates that you can be trusted with the concerns and challenges that are shared with you.
  1. Share your story. Look for opportunities to share your personal story before you ask the student to trust you on faith and share his. What should you share? Here are a few ideas:
  • What choices or events led you to the position you occupy today?
  • What challenges have you encountered and how have you overcome them?
  • How do you balance your professional and personal choices?

We all know the saying, actions speak louder than words. In keeping your word, keeping confidences, and sharing your story, you create a safe space for your student to share his hopes, goals, challenges, and concerns. And then the real work of mentoring can begin.