You’ll have heard the phrase – use it or lose it!!! I take it to mean if you don’t keep doing something you may find you can’t. So, if you don’t ride a bike for years, then you might find when you try you fall off. If you haven’t attempted endodontics for a long time then you may find you have forgotten how. In dentistry the word de-skilled is used. I haven’t worked clinically for many years now and I accept that I would be foolish to return to the surgery without some serious re-training. I accept that I will have de-skilled in my clinical abilities.
Can the concept be applied to mentoring I wondered?
I think the answer is yes and no. Let me explain my thinking. To be a successful and competent mentor requires the individual to have two major strings to their bow – a skill and/or experience that another wants to learn from plus the skills to be a mentor and undertake the mentoring relationship. I’m going to assume that the former – the skill and/or experience is a given. It is the second set of skills that more generally need to be acquired. These skills include listening, questioning, reflecting and supporting. Whilst many may feel these are not skills that need to be taught, I believe they absolutely do. I also believe that many very skilled and experienced dental professionals are not very good at being mentors – they tell rather than mentor. The mentor is not a teacher. I’ll elaborate on why I think de-skilling can but doesn’t have to apply to mentoring.
Yes – If you do not use the skills of a mentor – listening, questioning, reflecting and supporting then you can get rusty and the term de-skilling could apply. Certainly once acquired they do need to be practiced until they become habituated.
No – If you apply the mentor skills learnt to every conversation you have – with patients, with staff, with colleagues then you will find you have truly become a mentor. You will find you do not need to consciously think about mentoring, you just are, the skills have become second nature and part of your everyday working.
There is nothing mystical about mentoring, it really is a case of changing the conversations you have every day with everyone to use the skills of being a mentor. This is when the real benefits of mentoring are realised.
So, yes if you choose not to use your acquired skills then it is possible to revert to old habits and old preferences. However, if you do use your new skills, incorporate them into the way you behave then you will not de-skill. The really good thing about being trained to be a mentor is that you can practice those skills all day, every day. You don’t need to ‘mentor’ someone to benefit from your new abilities. In mentoring it’s so easy to use it and not lose it.