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Creating Meaningful Goals

Creating Meaningful Goals

Creating Meaningful Goals

Objective: The success of your mentoring partnership is largely dependent upon your ability to communicate. This worksheet highlights the connection between effective communication and effective goal setting.

A mentoring relationship is buoyed by the sharing and exploration of ideas. Such sharing serves as a catalyst for the achievement of goals. Creating clear and effective goals is often the result of conversations that include some discussion of:

Interests, talents, and strengths

  • Although we can all think of an example of goal setting that challenges someone to “do a new and different thing,” goals are most often related to known interests, talents and strengths. For example, Paula has a goal of starting a coaching business because she has a love of, and talent for, mentoring junior faculty.
  • Exploring interests, talents and strengths together not only helps mentors and mentees zero in on patterns that can lead to successful goal setting, but also helps in terms of motivation. Success comes more easily when you are doing what you love or following a passion. Success also comes more easily when you have the right tools (e.g. talents or strengths). The mentoring relationship should be a safe place to explore talents and strengths so that mentees do not waste time working toward goals that are not a good fit.
  • It is important to strategically align short-term and mid-term goals that take the mentee closer to the long-term. The mentoring partnership can help the mentee draw out the big picture or career plan so that he or she can plan the most appropriate path. This is where listening is especially helpful. Reflective listening (“so you are saying…” or “it sounds like you feel…”) can help the mentee clarify goals and plans as well as address any doubts, perceived challenges or needs.


  • In addition to setting goals that match interests, strengths and talents, mentees should also work with mentors to establish goals that are relevant to current and future trends. Goals must be relevant to the individual profession, and also in the context of the bigger picture.
  • Having accrued more experience can bring broader perspectives and experience for mentors to guide mentees and narrow his or her focus appropriately. A mentoring relationship should be a supportive place to explore and track trends as well as predict how adaptable the mentee's developing skills and talents will be.

Perceived Weaknesses

Discuss together where the plan or goal may need more attention. Anticipating potential problems has several benefits:

  • Allows time to develop a Plan B.
  • Allows time to put the appropriate supports and resources in place.
  • Increases confidence that the goal will be met because problems are met with calm action instead of panicked, disorganized surprise.


Past Successes

  • This discussion is closely related to talents and strengths. Knowing that you have done something successfully builds overall confidence. Knowing that you have done something before also increases your confidence that you can do it again. This conversation is particularly important when the mentee has fallen short of making progress towards a milestone or feels overwhelmed by upcoming projects or tasks.
  • A discussion of past successes is an important opportunity to give and receive encouragement and feedback. Such a discussion is also a good way to broach a criticism or correction that is hard to hear (for example, “you’ve done a great job with A, I appreciate your hard work. Here are the issues I see with B. Let’s talk about how we can address them”). It is important that the positive message about what is going right is delivered. Just as important, when discussing what is going wrong, a message of confidence must be communicated. Because the mentor and mentee have shared in-depth discussions about talents, the mentor is in a unique position to provide encouragement.
  • This conversation helps the mentee hold onto the pride of accomplishments while offering any needed support to improve performance areas where needed. The key word here is conversation; a conversation that balances listening with talking and exploration with discovery. It is in this safe space that goals are made and met.

Following are some benefits and strategies of effective communication to achieve desired goals.

  • Makes clear what is to be achieved and what is expected of your mentee. Mentors can help their mentees develop a roadmap that leads to a destination or goal. There is often more than one way to get from point A to point B. Effective communication is critical in helping mentees determine the most appropriate path and providing redirection when the journey gets off course.
  • Encourages an exchange toward common ground. Although it is helpful, it is not absolutely necessary that the mentor agrees with the goals that the mentee will be working toward. What is necessary, however, is for the mentor to communicate support. Stated differently, the pair must find some common ground on which to build a support for the partnership’s goals.

In your current mentoring relationship, this:

Makes the mentoring relationship more personal

Allows for questions and discussion

Reduces the likelihood that the information will get lost

Addresses the need to be heard and involved

Helps to create ownership or buy-in (important catalysts for individual and institutional success)

Builds a cohesiveness that supports the mentee, their goals, and career trajectory

Helps to communicate the unique culture and language of research development




Exercise One


Make a win list. Brainstorm about 5-10 successes you have had at work and write them down. Discuss these with your mentor and look for any emerging patterns that suggest goals appropriate for your talents and strengths.



Consider your communication style. On a scale of 1-5 (with 5 being extremely satisfied and 1 not at all satisfied), how would you rate your style in terms of clarity, warmth, directness, and responsiveness? Ask a trusted co-worker or loved one to evaluate you on the same scale. How close are your responses? Where would there room for improvement?


Exercise Two

Mentors and Mentees Practice Reflective Listening

Reflective listening, or paraphrasing, can help you build rapport and create empathy. Use the examples below to do some reflective listening at your next goal exploration session.

  • I sense that you…
  • I really hear you saying that…
  • You believe…
  • As you see it…
  • You feel…
  • I understand the problem as…
  • I wonder if…
  • Is it possible that…?

These statements can help you check for your understanding of the problem or statement and provide the speaker with the chance to clarify or correct. Reflective listening shows that you want to understand how the speaker is feeling and what he/she is thinking; have some confidence in the speaker's ability to frame the problem and introduce some solutions; and have respect for their feelings as well as the process that helped them arrive at these feelings.

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