Opposites Attract: Why You Should Consider a Mentoring Partner with a Different Lived Experience

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It’s easy to be drawn to those that are similar to us. In fact, it’s scientifically proven that we are and will continue to be.

According to Psychology Today, this is due to factors like:

  • Certainty of being liked: “We assume that someone who has a lot in common with us is more likely to like us. And in turn, we are more likely to like people if we think they like us.”
  • Consensual validation: “Meeting people who share our attitudes makes us feel more confident in our own attitudes about the world.”
  • Cognitive evaluation: “We learn that a person has something in common with us, and that makes us feel positively about that person, because we feel positively about ourselves.”

Furthermore, although studies have found that a benefit of relationships is that we can gain new experiences and knowledge by spending time with someone else (self-expansion theory)—and that a dissimilar person would be more likely to actually provide new experiences and knowledge—research has shown that people are still more likely to see self-expansion opportunities when interacting with someone who is similar, rather than dissimilar, to them.

That’s why it takes more of a conscious effort to intentionally choose someone who is dissimilar to you to serve as your mentoring partner. Now this isn’t to say that this person should be 100% different than you—after all, it’s difficult to establish rapport with someone you have nothing in common with.

Instead, as we’ve mentioned previously, someone who shares a similar (but not necessarily the same) professional foundation with you but has a distinctive background than your own is ideal.

The Perks of Difference

Being in a mentoring partnership with someone who shares professional experience but has a different personal, lived experience provides more exposure to diversity of thought.

And what can exposure to more diversity of thought do for you? It turns out, a whole lot.

First and foremost, this person will be able to offer you a unique perspective on both your day-to-day work life and the short- and long-term goals and obstacles you both face.

What’s more, social scientist Adam Galinsky found that people who have deep relationships with people different from them—like someone from another country—become more creative.

You’ll also increase your adaptability, making it easier for you to take changes in stride, face challenges, build resilience, and learn how to better accept and embrace new and different ideas—all helping to improve your interpersonal relationships at work. 

Your communication skills will also improve. By expanding your range of viewpoints and working with people from different backgrounds, you’ll learn how to communicate better with everyone around you.

Last but not least, it can make you more innovative, allowing you to engage in better brainstorming and problem solving and helping you get unstuck out of old routines.

Ultimately, there’s a whole lot to be gained by intentionally fostering relationships with those different from us; so why not make the non-obvious choice?

The organisational gains are compounded even further.

Not only do we create more understanding, inclusive working environments between employees, we ensure that lines of communication are open, opportunities for sponsorship are more available and paths for leadership for minority groups are embedded into our culture.

Ready to get your mentoring program started? Learn more about the five key decisions you need to make in order to successfully match, build momentum and measure a program:

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Emily Ryan
Emily Ryan
Head of Marketing at Mentorloop. Observing tens of thousands of mentoring relationships, she is passionate about helping people get the most from their mentoring experience. When not writing, you'll find her brewing beer or globe-trotting.

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