One of the most important benefits of a mentoring partnership is the candid feedback that occurs when both parties engage in it with each other.
Getting honest feedback from peers and supervisors in a work environment is challenging. The pervasive concerns are always about how it will be taken, fear of damaging the relationship, and the potential for resistance. If one or more parties tend to be conflict averse, it makes it even less likely that they will engage in candid feedback. In mentoring, just the opposite occurs. Mentees look to their mentors as a trusted source of candid feedback.
Mentees appreciate receiving feedback because they know it is given in good faith, with the intention of improving their performance and supporting their long-term development and career success. Mentors and mentees who commit to building their own competency and confidence in the feedback process report more positive outcomes than those who do not.
When Joe was assigned Henri as a mentor, he expected to get feedback about how he was doing and how upper management perceived him. Despite asking Henri several times about how thought things were going and what he was hearing, all Joe ever heard is, “everything’s fine.” Joe found it hard to believe that there wasn’t something to work on and began to suspect that there really was an underlying problem. Because Henri wasn’t offering specifics, Joe started second-guessing everything he was hearing from Henri. He began to dread mentoring meetings and rarely invested energy in their conversations.
What went wrong?
Clearly, absence of candid conversation and a clear feedback process undermined the trust in this mentoring partnership.
What can you do?
1. Start your relationship with the expectation that feedback will be part of the process.
2. Create ground rules and agreements about when, how often, and what process is best suited to your relationship.
3. Tell the truth; develop a habit of straight talk and don’t let either side stray.
4. Balance candor with compassion, but tell it like you see it.
5. Encourage your mentee to be candid. It is hard for mentees, especially new hires and those in the lower tiers of the organization, to speak up.
6. Be positive. Offer positive feedback along with constructive comments.
7. Show appreciation even when you receive negative feedback. Remember: it requires courage to offer negative feedback.
8. Practice difficult conversations.
9. Master behaviors and processes that can help you become more effective at constructive feedback.
10. Focus on what can be changed.