The mentoring conversation

by Professor David Clutterbuck

The process described below is based on observation of hundreds of mentoring conversations in relationships.

The most effective mentors:

  • Start by making sure that both they and the mentee are in the right frame of mind for a creative, open conversation. Often this is simple a matter of some initial small talk to create a relaxed atmosphere, but some pairs use more formal approaches, such as a couple of minutes meditation.
  • Help the mentee articulate and explain the issues for discussion. This usually means holding back on talking about their own experience and also recognising that the presented issue may not be the real issue. By spending time delving into the context, understanding the situation from multiple perspectives, questioning assumptions and looking for hidden patterns, the mentor and mentee develop a deeper mutual understanding of the issue that ensure that any solutions generated will be soundly based and congruent with the mentee’s values and feelings.
  • Summarise when it seems that a sufficient understanding of the issue has been reached. This gives the mentee an opportunity to speak up, if they think the mentor has misunderstood.
  • Reinforce the mentee’s self-confidence and self-belief, before moving into solution mode.
  • Help the mentee to explore a range of possible solutions or ways forward and to test each against their personal values and long-term ambitions
  • Encourage the mentee to summarise the mentoring conversation overall. This is important, because it emphasises that responsibility lies with the mentee, rather than with the mentor.