What Mentors Can Do When Advice is Unwelcome

The Key strategiesBy Barry Sweeny, January 2010

Marilyn Ferguson said that the “door to change is locked on the INside.”    – Think about what that means for your mentoring practice.

This tells us that insisting on something or overly asserting a mentor’s views when the protégé is “not ready” to change may just make a protégé more defensive, and THAT can reduce trust. Instead of opening the “door” and deferring to the mentor’s experience, the protégé who is not open to change reinforces “the door” with extra bars, and “stuff” is piled against it! That will not produce the needed changes.

It is sometimes true that the mentor may see a need of which the protege is unaware. If the mentor asserts what (s)he sees as a need, the mentor is taking a big risk. What will you do as a mentor if you present information you know to be needed, but the protege repeatedly ignores it?  How many times can you offer that advice before you start to feel like a “nag”.  Most experienced mentors say that after the third time of bringing up a topic that is ignored, they feel uncomfortable “going there” a fourth time. This suggests that readiness to learn and the timing of a mentoring intervention are very critical things.

So, what can you do when your mentoring advice seems unwelcome?  My experience has taught me that a thoughtful and goal-oriented mentor really has only three effective choices in this situation.


This is not a real “popular” mentoring choice, but it can work.

When a protégé seems unwilling to accept a mentor’s advice or unaware of their need to change something, mentors can wait a while for the reality and challenges of the work to show the protégé their own need to improve. If that happens, THENthe protege IS aware of a need to change and THEN, it’s time to offer advice.


This requires several important steps to succeed:

A. Assess needs – Ensure that what you think is needed IS really needed.
B. Advance planning – Consider what process or who is a great model worth observing.
C. Advance preparation – Arrange for the protégé to be exposed to and “discover” the model. Don’t just require it. Be clever so the protégé does not feel manipulated.
D. Ask open-ended questions to prompt the protege’s reflection on and analysis of what was observed and what the results were that the better practice attained.
E. Ask open-ended questions to prompt the protege’s analysis of:
• The need or desire to obtain better results for the protégé.
• The possible ways these desired results could be achieved by the protégé

THEN, it’s the time when the mentor can offer advice.


This strategy also requires careful preparation:

A. Identify the kind of observable information that would clearly describe the area of the protege’s need for improvement.
B. Collect that information over time using at least three methods or events.
C. Arrange the data so as to reveal any pattern in it that suggests protégé need.
D. Describe non judgmentally for the protégé what you have “noticed”, presenting what you have observed, but without implying any evaluation. (without written data)
E. Ask the protégé open ended questions to prompt the protege’s analysis and self assessment of your description to discover the pattern.
F. If the protégé is unable to “get” the idea, present the data that was written to reveal the pattern. Then ask questions to prompt the protege’s discovery of the pattern and interpretation of what it means. The goal is that the protégé does the analysis.