Appropriate Mentor Feed Back

© 2003, Barry Sweeny

Does “Offering Suggestions” Really Work?

The straight scoop is, sometimes yes, sometimes no.

Mentors, by definition, are usually very helpful people who are always ready to help others with new ideas, suggestions, and other forms of assistance. If a protege realizes they have a lot to learn and wants to learn it quickly, they will ask for advice and defer to the mentor’s experience to save themselves lots of slow, trial and error learning.

However, as desirable and obvious as that seems to be, experience has shown that giving advice to others may not always work, and can even cause problems. Sometimes, in the face of such wisdom and experience, proteges choose to do some very weird things, like the OPPOSITE of what the suggestions are! (See elsewhere on this web site for the research on this weird phenomena.)

What Goes Wrong?

People can perceive that suggestions from their mentor disguise the mentor’s feeling that the protege is inadequate, poorly prepared, not learning fast enough, etc. When this is the root cause of a poor protege reaction, these reactions often emerge from the protege’s own sense of being overwhelmed by the responsibilities of the work, high expectations of others, and their own feelings that they are inadequate and poorly prepared.

Whether this is really the case or not is not the issue. What ARE the issues?

1. Mentors will often lose their opportunity to effectively mentor if a protege perceives the mentor as critical instead of being encouraging and supportive. Who likes criticism? Not very many folks 2. After 2-3 offers of ideas are rejected or unused, most mentors stop offering suggestions. No mentor wants to be seen as a know-it-all, or as a “nag”. This suggests that mentors will only have 1-2 opportunities to offer their wisdom and experience, so they must assess the protege’s readiness to learn and openness to advice BEFORE the mentor should decide to offer it.

3. “The door to change is LOCKED on the INSIDE.” Commitment to change is a result of a choice the learner must make. The “teacher” cannot make this decision. However, mentors can entice a protege to “unlock the door” if the mentor knows strategies that make best practices a “magnet” which draws proteges out from their comfort zone, and readies them to accept a mentor’s experience.

If you are a mentor and these situations “ring true” for your experience, read on…


Advice for Mentors About Giving Advice

For these reasons and many others, many mentoring programs specifically train mentors to begin their mentoring by maintaining a very descriptive approach to providing feed back to the protege. We often Council mentors to remain non-evaluative and non judgmental by only offering suggestions when invited to do so by the protege.

This approach can be a problem however, as someemployees often are unaware of all their needs, and may not know the questions they need to ask. They may not even realize they have a problem. The way we describe this is, “They don’t know what they don’t know.” When that is the case, mentoring can become very challenging, and even come to a stop. Yikes!

This can result in mentors not offering suggestions and new teachers not asking for suggestions, a very undesirable situation!

1. One solution for this is for mentors to be trained in a strategy to assess protege needs through use of open-ended questions that prompt reflection and sharing. This allows mentors to target specifics and help in areas of need.

2. The CBAM “Stages of Concern” are another great mentoring assessment strategy for diagnosing and planning for just this situation.

3. Another important strategy is for mentoring programs to specifically tell proteges…

Your mentors do not want to be seen as critical of you or as evaluating you. That is not their role.  Therefore, your mentors have decided NOT to offer suggestions unless YOU specifically request it. This means that there may be times when you want more ideas and suggestions than the mentors are giving you. When you want more, just ask the mentors what ideas and suggestions they have and they will gladly share their experience with you.”


Basically, here are the guidelines I suggest for mentors giving feed back:

FEED BACK…

  1. IS MOST HELPFUL WHEN IT IS REQUESTED
  2. DESCRIBES and DOES NOT JUDGE
  3. IS SPECIFIC
  4. IS DIRECTED AT BEHAVIOR THE PERSON CAN CONTROL
  5. BUILDS MUTUAL RESPECT & TRUST
  6. IS MORE ACCEPTABLE IF IT IS A PATTERN OF BEHAVIOR
  7. IS MORE CREDIBLE WHEN THE PERSON GIVING THE FEED BACK RECOGNIZES THEIR OWN NEED FOR FEEDBACK TOO

Also check out the page “When is it OK for Mentors To Give Advice?” LINK &&&&&