Sick of Solitary Confinement? You Are Not Alone

–Distance-peer mentoring, here's how

Just because you’re working alone – You don’t have to work by yourself. We’re all “remote workers” now – confined to our laptops, either working on our regular jobs, or freelance, or “gig” workers.  How do we stay motivated, on purpose, and productive in our new “virtual workplace”?

Imagine that you had a “guardian angel”? Like a coach by your side, cheering you on, keeping you on target. Wouldn’t it be nice to know there was someone in your corner who was committed to helping you? Someone you trust, contributing to your success, without judging you or without ulterior motives?

That’s what I call a “Peer-Mentor” – a new twist on the traditional mentoring model. Peer Mentoring is a combination or confluence of two popular trends (networking and mentoring) regardless of the business or career you’re engaged in. Peer Mentoring is a process through which people identify their own resources and those of others and then create specific strategies for mutual goal achievement.  It is a new adaptation of the age-old concept of reciprocity practiced by all cultures. Usual reciprocal practices are implicit, whereas the Peer-Mentor contract makes the agreements explicit. The participants barter resources (skills, contacts, technical expertise, advice, counseling, criticism, etc.) with each other as needed.

This model encourages the development and organization of one’s readily available resources – personal, business, and social – and is based on mutual support. It is different from the “I can do it myself through gritted teeth” attitude, which I believe most people find extremely difficult in practice. The Peer-Mentoring technique challenges the myth that isolation is a necessary companion of success. Each peer is, then, both the mentor and the protégé. Complementary skills and needs form the basis of this system of pairing. The pair becomes a relationship for support, guidance, and resource-sharing to achieve each individual’s goals.

The operative word is “peer”, someone at one’s own level, and not necessarily a senior or superior person in rank or position.

The Peer-Mentor relationship is not about friendship, or being “similar”.  It is structured around a written contract between two people.  The contract specifies, in detail, what goals each person has.  It further details what strategies she will use to achieve them – the targets, timeframes, and measures, metrics, and indicators by which she will know when the goals have been reached. The operative word is “peer”, someone at one’s own level, and not necessarily a senior or superior person in rank or position. The role of the Peer-Mentor is to keep the other on target, to help push through the fears, internal blocks, and procrastination – to believe in the other even when she does not believe in herself.

Each participant agrees to both receive and provide the support, counsel, sponsorship, and advice that is designed specifically for each contract. Each agrees to an exchange in what both parties consider to be a fair trade. The partners must be explicit, describing clearly what they expect of each other and how they will know when they are living up to their ends of the partnership. The feedback they give each other will focus on being objective, positive, and specific.

Suggestions for improvement are requested, not given without solicitation. And each must deliver the criticism as constructively and specifically as possible, focused on the behavior and not the person.

Each partner’s goals and objectives are spelled out clearly and explicitly, so each knows what the other means. Then, each partner designs strategies or activities to achieve those goals with specific indicators to measure success:  “how will I know when I’m there?” The goals are the “what” – the strategies are the “how”.

If you’re in business or professional practice for yourself, your Peer Mentor could help you with your sales technique, financial planning, or advertising strategies.

Your Peer Mentor’s role could take a number of forms. For example, she may be more politically savvy than you and might help you figure out which projects would get you the most visibility in your organization. She may help you understand how to influence your supervisor or others who have some say over your career and salary review. Similarly, your Peer Mentor could help you rehearse the talk you will have when you sit down with your boss. If you’re in business or professional practice for yourself, your Peer Mentor could help you with your sales technique, financial planning, or advertising strategies. The Peer-Mentor model is based on the idea that the partners have an investment in and commitment to each other. There will undoubtedly be conflict, diversions, and distractions at times, but this is perfectly natural in an intimate and committed relationship.

There are several steps in finding the right Peer Mentor for you and your needs, and then getting to work towards achieving your separate goals.

  1. First, set a goal. It can be short, as a one-month goal, maybe a small bite out of a longer, one-year goal.
  2. Then, identify, “what skills, resources, contacts do I already have that will help me achieve that goal?”
  1. Then ask, “what skills, resources, contacts, assets will I need to achieve my goal?”
  2. Reach out among your networks to identify a person (or more than one) who has some of the skills/assets you need, and might want some of the skills you can offer? (of course, it’s much more challenging in these days of “voluntary isolation”; you aren’t going to networking meetings, business conferences, social gatherings, etc. So you’ll have to be more creative in your “search” – your online networks (liked LinkedIn, Facebook, Integra, etc.) friends of friends, colleagues.
  1. Discuss the basic idea of Peer Mentoring and its principles. Make sure you both have a clear understanding of what this involves, assess what you each bring to the table, what you each need, how much time, effort, resources you each want to offer, etc.  The more explicit you are at the beginning, the better chance you have to make this process a success.
  2. Finally, make a simple Contract/Agreement with each other. Each person articulates his/her goal – what “assets” they already have, what they still need from the other. Then they each write down specifically what they will help each other with, how they will measure the “help”.  Also discussed is when they will “meet”  (on the phone, or video chat) to discuss progress and make plans for the next chunk of time.

To learn more, and for detailed instructions on each of the above  steps,   A Swift Kick in the Can’ts


Elaina Zuker
Elaina Zuker
ELAINA is the president of Elaina Zuker Associates in Montréal, Canada. She has taught seminars to hundreds of employees and managers at major corporations such as AT&T, IBM, American Express, and MCI International, and is a frequent keynote speaker at conferences and industry events. She is the author of six books, on leadership, management, and communication. Her best-selling book, “The Seven Secrets of Influence” (McGraw-Hill), the recent Main Selection for the Business Week Book Club, has been translated into four languages and its new, revised 2021 edition is now available on Amazon in paperback and as an e-book on Amazon Kindle. Her new book about Peer Mentoring YOUX2 has also just been launched on Amazon. Her internationally successful program “Secrets of Influence ™ is now available as an online learning program, either as a completely online self-study program or in a hybrid version. The program, created with the latest educational technology, can also be customized for an organization’s specific requirements. Ms. Zuker holds a B.A. in Psychology, an M.A. in Management/Organizational Development, and is the 2004 recipient of the Alumni Achievement Award from New York Polytechnic University. To engage Ms. Zuker as a speaker or consultant, to book a seminar for your company or organization, or to learn how to become a licensed Affiliate for Secrets of Influence, visit or contact us at [email protected]

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