Tips for Mentoring Partners:
Communicating, Listening & Giving Feedback *

Asking Good Questions

As a mentor, you want to develop your mentee's ability to think for him/herself. Asking thought-provoking questions is one way to achieve this. Strive for questions that cannot be answered in one word. You want to encourage the mentee to reflect on their experience and learn from yours. Some examples of open-ended, exploratory questions are listed below.

  • Why did you choose to concentrate on this topic?
  • What is your understanding of the issue/concern?
  • What information supports your assessment? What are other people's perceptions of this issue?
  • What assumptions are you making?
  • What other ideas do you have?
  • What have you learned in a past experience that you didn't expect to learn?
  • What are the reasons behind the issue/concern?
  • Have you tried to resolve this issue/concern before? Why or why not? If so, what was the result?
  • What choices can you identify?
  • What progress have you made?
  • How are you using the things/ideas that we have spoken about?
  • What results do you expect?

In addition to asking exploratory questions to assess issues and gain broader understanding, mentors also use empowering questions to encourage the mentee to think for him/herself rather than look to you for answers. Some of the following are examples of empowering questions.

  • Which skill(s) do you want to develop?
  • What strategies come to mind when looking at a situation?
  • What do you see as possible solutions here?
  • What are your desired outcomes? Are these outcomes reasonable for your situation?
  • What resources will help you move forward? How will you obtain the resources that you need?
  • Who are the key players from whom you need help?
  • What things might help or hinder you?
  • What other information do you need to find a solution?
  • What is the first step you need to take to achieve your desired outcome?
  • What alternative strategies should you develop? What might go wrong with your plan?
  • How will you know that you have mastered or successfully enhanced a skill, ability or knowledge?
  • How will you apply your new skill, ability or knowledge?

A Reminder on Giving Constructive Feedback

Remember that feedback should be a teaching or guiding opportunity. Deliver it with a positive attitude. There will likely be times when it is appropriate for both partners to provide feedback to one another. As a friendly reminder:

Do:

  • Make good eye contact if you are meeting face-to-face or video conferencing.
  • Stay interested.
  • Show that you understand and agree or disagree with feedback that you receive.
  • Keep a calm tone of voice when giving verbal feedback. Choose your words carefully and explain clearly if providing written feedback.
  • Maintain a relaxed posture even if the situation is tense or feedback is not well received.
  • Use "I" statements with examples and draw on your experience in trying to share information.
  • Avoid a statement that describes a person instead of an action.
  • Give specific feedback.
  • Give the other person a chance to ask questions and share a viewpoint.
  • Listen carefully to words, but also be aware of feelings and body language.
  • Allow time and privacy for feedback. Uninterrupted time is best.
  • Help your mentee plan for next steps. Ask questions such as: What can you do to reach your desired outcome? What are your ideas about how to solve this challenge? What resources are available to you? What can I do to help you?

Don't:

  • Reduce your eye contact, scowl or narrow your eyes if giving feedback face-to-face.
  • Have tense or take aggressive posture (e.g., leaning in, folding arms, pushed-back, and hands on hips).
  • Create distraction from message (e.g., rocking, bouncing/tapping a pen, nervousness, defensive).
  • Add a "but" or "however" to discount the feedback.
  • Interrupt when the other person is responding.

Being a Good Listener

In all roles of a mentoring partnership, it is critical to be a good listener. This means actively engaging in communication, for example:

  • Give your undivided attention when the other person is speaking.
  • Don't use your phone, computer or be distracted when you are communicating with your partner.
  • Avoid interrupting and let the other person express themself.
  • Be aware of nonverbal cues (e.g., nodding, frowning, smiling and loss of eye contact) when in face-to-face situations.
  • Summarize and paraphrase to make sure you heard and understood what the other person said.

Being a Good Mentee

  • Assume responsibility for acquiring or improving skills, knowledge and abilities.
  • Be open and honest in your goals, expectations and concerns.
  • Actively listen and question.
  • Contribute to a supportive and trusting environment.
  • Be open to constructive feedback/criticism and request it.
  • Meet your commitments and come prepared to each exchange.
  • Respect your mentor's time and resources.
  • Apply what you learn to your program and professional duties.

How to Receive Feedback/Criticism

Feedback should be thought of as a learning opportunity. Accept it with a positive attitude.

Do:

  • If you need more information, ask for clarification or specific examples.
  • Paraphrase and repeat back to make sure you understood what was said. Do this until you are clear on the feedback.
  • Provide relevant background information and explanations. Elaborate if needed to clarify your partner's understanding.
  • Listen carefully and don't become defensive. Remember, this is a learning opportunity.
  • Compare this feedback with other feedback you have received.
  • Discuss strategies and next steps. Discuss possible solutions and remember you are driving your bus!
  • Seek follow-up to feedback sessions and share any progress or hurdles with your partner.

Don't:

  • Interrupt another person when they speak.
  • Make excuses.
  • "Think ahead" to prepare your rebuttal to a comment, since you may miss an important piece of information.

Be Aware of Common Pitfalls

  • Minimize distractions and give your attention to your partner. Avoid multitasking, especially if you are communicating through online tools.
  • If you are in a mentor role, do not allow a mentee to become too dependent upon you.
  • Make sure that as a mentee you "own" your issues and challenges and accept responsibility for addressing them.
  • Don't provide too much feedback to your partner. The correct amount will act as guidance and encourage self-development.
  • Don't discount a partner's thoughts, feelings or concerns.
  • Avoid cancelling or rescheduling planned contacts at the last minute.
  • If you are in the mentee role, don't expect the mentor to have all of the answers or remove all of the obstacles in your way.
  • Accept constructive feedback in a positive way and avoid becoming defensive.
  • Maintain realistic expectations of what you and your partner can accomplish.
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