Academic journal article Journal of Organizational Culture, Communications and Conflict

Social Skill in Workplace Mentoring Relationships

Academic journal article Journal of Organizational Culture, Communications and Conflict

Social Skill in Workplace Mentoring Relationships

Article excerpt


Mentoring is a developmental relationship that involves close interpersonal interactions between a mentor and their protege and it has become a popular research topic as evidenced by the various meta-analyses summarizing the literature (Allen, Eby, Poteet, Lentz, & Lima, 2004; Eby, Allen, Evans, Ng, & DuBois, 2008; Underhill, 2005). In general, results from these meta-analyses suggest that mentoring relationships provide positive outcomes for proteges especially in a career setting, such as higher job satisfaction, salaries, and supervisor support (e.g., Eby et al., 2008). Although there is ample research on the benefits of mentoring relationships, limited research is available on the process or factors relating to the cultivation and maintenance of successful mentoring relationships (Wanberg, Welsh, & Hezlett, 2003). Nonetheless, in her seminal work, Kram (1985) suggested that interpersonal skills may influence how mentoring relationships are initiated and developed, although surprisingly, the role of interpersonal skills in a mentoring relationship has received little attention. Therefore, the goal of this theoretical paper is to discuss how interpersonal skills, such as social skill, influence the mentoring process. In doing so, we build on Kram's (1985) suggestions to understand the role of interpersonal skills in mentoring relationships.

Social skill is an individual's ability to successfully interpret and manage social interactions (Witt & Ferris, 2003), and research indicates that it is positively associated with job performance, promotion, salary, and psychosocial adjustment (Ferris, Hochwarter, Douglas, Blass, & Kolodinsky, 2002). Individuals with strong social skill also tend to experience positive social interactions (Riggio & Zimmerman, 1991). Nonetheless, little is known about whether or how individual social skill influences the workplace mentoring process, although it seems likely that both mentor and protege social skill influences the costs and benefits of a mentoring relationship.

The idea that social skill influences mentoring relationships may seem self-evident, but we aim to go beyond simply stating the obvious. More specifically, given that mentoring relationships involves costs and benefits we utilize social exchange theory to examine the underlying mechanisms of mentoring relationships. We first provide an overview of mentoring relationships, social exchange theory, and social skill. We then describe how social skill influences mentoring relationships in the initiation and cultivation phase of a mentoring relationship from a dyadic perspective. Finally, we discuss the implications of our propositions for various mentoring topics.


Traditional Mentoring Relationship

Mentoring involves an older, more experienced adult supporting, coaching, and sponsoring a younger individual (Kram, 1985), and research indicates that mentoring leads to positive career outcomes for proteges, such as higher salary and career satisfaction (Eby et al., 2008). In general, proteges receive two broad types of support from their mentors: career and psychosocial (Allen, Eby, O'Brien, & Lentz, 2008; Kram, 1983). The career support includes sponsorship, exposure and visibility, coaching, and protection. Through career support, proteges learn the skills needed for career advancement and are offered the opportunity for challenging and high visibility assignments. The psychosocial support includes role modeling, acceptance and confirmation, counseling, and friendship. These functions enhance and develop proteges' inner growth, which contributes to higher job satisfaction and self-esteem (Allen et al., 2004).

Kram (1983, 1985) proposed that mentoring relationships consists of four phases: initiation, cultivation, separation, and redefinition. The initiation phase lasts six to 12 months and involves setting expectations about the relationship. …

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