two people having a mentoring conversation

How to get the best out of your mentoring relationship

I’d like to follow up on my previous post Mentoring for a Change – Mentoring Exchanges, and talk about how to get the most out of your mentoring relationship, or to ensure an effective mentoring experience. In this post, I also introduced you to Mentoring Exchanges – a mentoring program that matches individuals working in global development with private sector and academic professionals from around the world to advance professional and social outcomes.

I’d like to talk about how to get the most out of a mentoring relationship – whether you’re a mentor, or a mentee (the person being mentored). As a mentee, how can you benefit from a mentoring relationship, from communicating your needs and expectations all the way through to building skills and changing behavior? As a mentor, how can you best support your mentee, particularly without going into expert, commando-mode – telling your mentee how they should behave (and yes that really happens)…How can mentors and mentees establish a mutually beneficial and developmental relationship of respect between two professionals????

My previous blog post, Mentoring for a Change – Mentoring Exchanges, gave the definitions and benefits of mentoring, for both the mentor and the mentee. In brief, mentoring is a relationship to achieve a mentee’s goals, improving their knowledge, skills or performance. As Julie Starr highlights in her book, The Mentoring Manual: ‘Mentoring is a distinct relationship where one person (mentor) supports the learning, development and progress of another person (mentee).


two people shaking hands


Back to the (Contracting) Basics

One of the most important phases in setting up a productive, healthy and beneficial mentoring relationship is the ‘contracting process’, or the foundation for how things are going to be done, in a sense, the ground rules. In a nutshell, this is the conversation that takes place during your initial meeting where you mutually agree on respective expectations and responsibilities and come to an agreement about the basics. Here you confirm essentials like the scheduling of mentoring appointments, the best way to hold the sessions (duration, modality, frequency), and cancellation procedures. It is also during this time that you will discuss how you will handle conflict/deal with any possible problems that may arise. While most of this seems common sensical and obvious – it is precisely for these reasons that the contracting process needs time, attention. It’s a commitment that benefits both sides, and a really worthwhile investment of time.

Let’s see how to get the best out of the relationship, whatever your role.


two young men having a mentoring conversation 

Tips for receiving Mentoring

If you have a mentor, make the most of your experience through the following:

  1. Be clear about your objectives – clarify what you want your mentor to help you with – and discuss how you will know that you’ve achieved your goal.
  2. Open your mind. Be flexible to explore possibilities and find solutions.
  3. Listen and Understand. Respect your mentor’s advice, guidance, experience, knowledge and expertise – but don’t be afraid to question anything, to appreciate their rationale.
  4. Bring specific questions to ask, challenges or developments; stories, or situations.
  5. Expect constructive criticism or feedback – be open to it and ask for it
  6. Accept challenge. Your mentor will challenge you on occasion. This is a good thing – it’s only when you step outside your comfort zone that true learning happens.


man reading - learning

Tips for Mentors

If you’re mentoring someone, it really helps to:

  1. Build rapport and trust – Build a relationship through positive regard, genuine interest in your mentee, and good communication. Honour agreements and respect your mentee.
  2. Communicate clearly – Use active listening, eye contact, agreeable sounds (‘yes’) or nods. Summarise, reflect or feed back, to demonstrate your understanding. Ask open-ended questions:
    • What have you learned since we last spoke?
    • How did that meeting go?

Praise and encourage them. Be flexible and creative in conversations, to help them progress and to challenge them or their thinking.

  1. Empower others – Share your experience, challenges and wisdom but don’t intervene to solve your mentee’s problems. Ask questions, rather than give advice. Encourage your mentee to find their own solutions.
  2. Demonstrate self-awareness – Speak from experience about your thinking, decisions and behaviors. Knowing your own strengths and weaknesses and talking with honesty will make you an empathetic and effective mentor.
  3. Provide clarity – Help to identify what your mentee wants to work on (as priorities). Help them to clarify and shape their goals to maintain an effective focus.
  4. Maintain focus – Keep sight of the overall goal or themes. Steer clear of anything that distracts from, or is unsupportive of, your mentee’s progress. Focus on subjects that will aid their success, including challenging ones.
  5. Commit to own learning – Recognise this as a self-development process for you, too. You will learn much about yourself – and other perspectives – to help your own career path and success.


young and older girl mentoring


Whether you’re a business leader or a development professional – if you’re interested in mentoring, we’d like to hear from you.

If you feel that you or your organisation could benefit from mentoring or coaching, please get in touch.

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