One of the basic principles ingrained in us from an early age is that one should always respect one's elders. In the professional world, however, it is quite common for someone of a younger age to be in a position where they are expected to mentor someone older. While many workplaces don't have official mentoring programs in place, training is often handed down to a younger employee, and given the social implications, this may not come as naturally as it might with a coworker from their own age group. There is already some measure of tension involved when one is tasked with learning something new, and the added pressure of having to relate to someone who doesn't share a similar background can only serve to exacerbate that stress level.

An approach known as "inclusive mentoring" emphasizes that each individual, regardless of age, is bringing a different set of life experiences to the table and therefore has something of value to teach. Within this framework of thinking, where our identities differ are no longer sources of potential conflict, but rather new perspectives which can serve to enrich the learning experience. Questions brought up often lead the lesson organically. A good mentor is one who is a good communicator, and to communicate effectively one must not only speak clearly and to the point but also listen actively. In this way, the mentor becomes not an authoritative source of information but a knowledgeable guide. It is also important for a mentor to remain open-minded. No matter how firm a grasp one might have on a subject, there is probably still something to learn.

Getting to know the person on the other side is the key starting point. By asking questions about their professional background, what applicable knowledge they might already possess, as well as ascertaining what expectations they might have of the process or the relationship, a mentor can begin to break through the preconceptions and social barriers toward a more comfortable, productive atmosphere. It often doesn't take long before the person on the other side doesn't look so different after all, no matter their age.

As a mentor, you might be confronted with your own shortcomings from time to time, and it is important to remember that you don't have to know everything throughout every step of the way. As in all areas of the workplace, a network of support is a crucial element to a successful mentorship.