Mentoring the Mentor to Learn Through Feedback

As you men­tor your employ­ees to devel­op their skills or improve their per­for­mance, you can set them up for suc­cess by moti­vat­ing the learn­ing process with feed­back.   Feed­back is an essen­tial dri­ver of expe­ri­en­tial learn­ing and devel­op­ment. We are con­stant­ly receiv­ing feed­back from the envi­ron­ment as we test out our judg­ments and con­clu­sions, then refine them.

Why, then, is feed­back often dif­fi­cult to swal­low?  Why do most of us have so lit­tle prac­tice giv­ing feed­back to oth­ers? Remem­ber that deep learn­ing requires expe­ri­enc­ing, reflect­ing, think­ing, and act­ing – the entire learn­ing cycle.  We must repeat this ide­al process again and again to con­tin­ue to improve. To moti­vate learn­ing and start a new cycle, we rely on get­ting feed­back about the impact of our actions. Yet, the fear asso­ci­at­ed with giv­ing and receiv­ing feed­back can par­a­lyze the flow of infor­ma­tion need­ed for learn­ing to occur. 

Try to reframe the issue by remem­ber­ing that feed­back is some­thing that you need to learn how to give, and mentees may need to learn how to receive.  It may pro­vide a men­tal mod­el for prac­tic­ing, an essen­tial part of delib­er­ate learn­ing. Here are some tips that guide you around the entire learn­ing cycle.  


Expe­ri­enc­ing Giv­ing and receiv­ing feed­back can trig­ger an emo­tion­al reac­tion and a stress response, result­ing in fight, flight or freeze, and can even trig­ger a response sim­i­lar to the four stages of grief:  denial, anger, with­draw­al and accep­tance.  

  • Before offer­ing feed­back, cre­ate a trust­ing rela­tion­ship with your mentee.  When trust is present and feed­back is fair, the mentee can typ­i­cal­ly skip the anger and with­draw­al stages and jump to the accep­tance stage much more quickly.
  • Con­sid­er the envi­ron­ment in which you offer feed­back. Engage direct­ly with your mentee in a face-to-face (or vir­tu­al) con­ver­sa­tion rather than via email or text.
  • Do not make feed­back per­son­al or threat­en the iden­ti­ty or worth of the per­son receiv­ing the feed­back.  

Prompts to Guide You in Experiencing:

      • Am I ful­ly present with­out dis­trac­tions dur­ing a feed­back conversation?
      • Am I con­nect­ing emo­tion­al­ly and build­ing trust? 
      • Is my intent to help and sup­port the mentee’s devel­op­ment? 

Reflect­ing As you con­sid­er what feed­back to pro­vide, take many perspectives.

  • Allow time to let your bias­es reveal them­selves before you pro­vide feed­back.  Con­sid­er your mes­sage carefully.
  • Con­sid­er the mentee’s per­spec­tive (her/him), your per­spec­tive (me), and the per­spec­tive of both of you in the rela­tion­ship (us).
  • Adopt a stance of inquiry even as you pro­vide infor­ma­tion to the mentee.  You may help to facil­i­tate mean­ing and aware­ness that will trig­ger new judg­ments and behav­ior change. 
  • Co-cre­ate a process for pro­vid­ing feed­back with your mentee.  Is there a reg­u­lar time that works best?  What type of feed­back will be help­ful for her/his devel­op­ment?  Is the mentee sea­soned in receiv­ing feed­back?  If so, what has worked well in the past for the mentee’s learn­ing and devel­op­ment?  

Prompts to Guide You in Reflecting:

      • Have I con­sid­ered oth­er points of view?
      • Am I inquir­ing about the sit­u­a­tion and intent?
      • Am I allow­ing time for the mentee to “strug­gle” and find answers?

Think­ing Con­sid­er using a men­tal mod­el for pro­vid­ing feed­back so that you have a process guide for your con­ver­sa­tion. Here is one that fol­lows the learn­ing process:  

  • Cre­ate a learn­ing envi­ron­ment that includes con­ver­sa­tion, explo­ration and dis­cov­ery, not a one-way direc­tive.  Cre­ate a trust­ing relationship.
  • Clar­i­fy what hap­pened by ask­ing ques­tions, then share your inten­tion to help the mentee improve.
  • Focus feed­back on one impor­tant top­ic rather than adding infor­ma­tion more than can be absorbed.  Fac­tu­al­ly describe the spe­cif­ic behav­iors or sit­u­a­tion that you observed.  Notice that this is about behav­iors — not about per­son­al­i­ty, traits or per­son­al qual­i­ties. Include only what the evi­dence shows; do not include gos­sip, rumor or innuendo.
  • Describe the impact that the behav­ior had on you or others.
  • Cre­ate a plan in which the mentee can test out your feed­back and agree to next steps together.
  • Fol­low up on the mentee’s progress. 

Prompts to Guide You in Thinking:

      • What does the evi­dence show?
      • Have I been objec­tive and log­i­cal, set­ting aside my emo­tions and self-interest?
      • What is the larg­er plan for devel­op­ment or improvement?

Act­ing Prac­tice, prac­tice, prac­tice!  Give feed­back often, not just at the end of a project.  This will allow the mentee an oppor­tu­ni­ty to course-cor­rect and improve while work­ing with you.  After offer­ing feed­back, cre­ate an action plan with your mentee that will allow you to cir­cle back to fol­low her/his devel­op­ment over time.   As you pro­vide feed­back to mentees, con­sid­er seek­ing feed­back from them, too.  By hon­ing your abil­i­ty to help to devel­op oth­ers, you will be devel­op­ing your­self in the process.   Prompts to Guide You in Acting:

        • How will I be account­able to fol­low up with the mentee?
        • Am I encour­ag­ing my mentee to take risks?
        • What activ­i­ties will sup­port the mentee’s learn­ing and help her or him apply it?

Zoom Out to Pro­vide Feed­back to Your­self When pro­vid­ing feed­back to mentees, con­sid­er your own strengths and chal­lenges as you prac­tice this process. Are you more com­fort­able in cer­tain areas than oth­ers?  As you build your feed­back-giv­ing capa­bil­i­ties, you may become more curi­ous about get­ting feed­back your­self.  Accept­ing feed­back is one thing; ask­ing for feed­back is a leap in accel­er­at­ing your own devel­op­ment and matu­ri­ty.  

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If you are men­tor­ing employ­ees in their devel­op­ment, you can learn more about our new Expe­ri­en­tial Learn­ing Men­tor Cer­tifi­cate Pro­gram at