Mentor Skills Critical for Sustaining Progress

Phase 3: Progression

This phase is core of the relationship as both partners become more comfortable about challenging each other's perceptions, exploring issues more deeply and experiencing mutual learning. In addition, the mentee takes an increasing lead in managing the relationship and the mentoring process itself.

The key competency for the mentor to have in this phase is providing constructive feedback.

Providing Constructive Feedback versus Praise and Criticism

As a mentor you can provide in two different ways: through constructive feedback or through praise and criticism. Constructive feedback is far superior in helping the mentee gain valuable information about him or herself and, done properly, it can go a long way in boosting self-confidence and building rapport. The advantages of constructive feedback will become more obvious if we examine the difference between the two forms of feedback.

Constructive feedback is information-specific, issue-focused, and based on observations. It comes in two varieties:
•  Positive constructive feedback is news or input about an effort well done.
•  Negative feedback is news about an effort that needs improvement.

Praise and criticism are both personal judgments about a performance effort or outcome, with praise being a favorable judgment and criticism, an unfavorable judgment. Information given is general and vague, focused on the person, and based on opinions or feelings.

The following examples should help illustrate the essential differences between constructive feedback and praise/criticism:

PRAISE: You did a great job on that client proposal. Nice work.


POSITIVE CONSTRUCTUVE FEEDBACK: The contributions you made to the client proposal were very helpful. I noticed that you identified the client's needs one-by-one and then demonstrated how our services would address each one. The cost savings benefits and ROI sections were realistic, on target and will definitely be a selling point to the client. Not to mention that the report was completed prior to the deadline.

CRITICISM: You were not much help on that client proposal. I hope that this is not what we can come to expect of you.


NEGATIVE CONSTRUCTIVE FEEDBACK: I have some concerns regarding your work on this client proposal. It is very important that we demonstrate to the client that we understand their industry in general as well as their specific needs. However, I found the content on the features and benefits part of the proposal to be very generic and did not provide a clear picture of how our services would solve many of the problems they are currently experiencing. Additionally, I could not find any mention of time or cost savings for the client. The completion of the proposal will now be delayed and it will require everyone's help to get it back on track.

The constructive feedback was more objective, specific and nonjudgmental than the praise/criticism method. It was based on observations of specific items and it was not wrong or right. This feedback would encourage discussion enabling the mentee to learn more about the situation and establish a positive course of action to rectify any concerns.

Procedure for Giving Constructive Feedback

The method for providing constructive feedback, whether positive or negative, is composed of four categories: content, manner, timing and frequency.

Content is what you say: In your first sentence, tell the mentee on what particular issue you will be providing feedback and then be as specific as possible. Begin you sentences with an “I” message which will help you be issue-focused.

Manner is how you say what you say. Be direct and sincere when providing feedback. Add appreciation, for positive feedback, or concern, for negative feedback, to the specifics of the issue to create awareness of the importance of the message. Rather than relating your analysis or opinion, state your observations of what you see occur. Observations are more factual and nonjudgmental.

Timing addresses when you provide feedback and of course the answer is ASAP. The closer to the occurrence that the mentee receives your feedback, the more likely that the event will be fresh in both your minds and therefore easier to discuss. However, if the feedback is negative and you cannot deliver it in a calm, concerned manner, it will be better received if you wait until you are ready.

Frequency answers the question about how often you should provide constructive feedback to your mentee. This is the perhaps the most important element of constructive feedback s it ties it all together. Constructive feedback should be used on an ongoing basis…..respond to the mentee doing the right thing as often as you respond to them doing something not so right.

A simple tip that will improve your feedback skills is called mirroring . It is a form of nonverbal communication that helps to establish rapport. It may include miming gestures, movements, body language, expressions, tones, eye movements, breathing, tempo,choice of words, or other features discernible in communication. Just as people accept their mirror image with ease, mirroring the person one is speaking with generally makes them feel more at ease and gets them to open up. Imitate the breathing pattern of your mentee is the least intimidating of the techniques; the rapport that it facilitates will make both compliments and criticisms more readily acceptable.

Discussing Delicate Issues: Guidelines for Mentors

Put the mentee at ease . . .

  • Stay calm. Show your intentions are constructive, not critical.
  • Use body language to communicate attentiveness (e.g., maintain eye contact, sit at same level).
  • Avoid judgmental statements such as “Why would you do something like that?”
  • Be honest if you are getting emotional or upset.
  • Reassure mentee that confidentiality will be honored.
  • Be tactfully honest.
  • Allow mentee to talk at their own pace—don't force an issue.
  • Do not pry—allow mentee to bring up topics he or she is comfortable with.  

Honor the mentee's right to self-determination . . .

  • Focus on the mentee's feelings and needs rather than jumping to problem solving.
  • When issue has been talked about, ask, “What do you think you would like to do about this situation?” “How would you like me to help?”
  • If you are not comfortable with what the mentee wants to do, ask yourself why before you decide whether to say so.
  • If what the mentee wants to do is not possible, explain so gently and apologize.
  • Ask what alternative solutions would make the mentee comfortable.
  • Encourage critical thinking through questions and reflections.  

Problem solve and offer resources . . .

  • Know your appropriate role as a mentor.
  • Be honest with mentee if confidentiality does not hold.
  • Provide information if mentee is unaware of resources or options.
  • Brainstorm with mentee and be creative in finding a solution—there is usually more than one way to handle a situation and this process is educational for the mentee.
  • Be collaborative—you are a team.
  • Follow through with any and all commitments .
    Adapted from of The Mentoring Partnership of New York, Mentoring in the Faith Community: An Operations Manual for Program Coordinators.

Go to your Mentoring Handbook or click here for a summary sheet of the "Roles, Activities and Skills of a Mentor" for a quick review.

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