Mentoring techniques for added value in conversations

by Jan Murray

30 July 2018

A mentor helps to guide a mentee to consider options and identify what they need to do to be the best they can be. Jan Murray, director at Perform, Learn, Develop describes how active listening, open ended questioning, mind mapping and more can help a mentor to create effective mentoring relationships.

What is a mentor?

A mentor is someone who will encourage and support a mentee to make the most of their career or business. As a mentor, the role is to be a trusted confidante, helping the mentee to make informed choices.

Although the final decisions are always in the mentee’s hands, a mentor can be invaluable in guiding the mentee to consider the options, get new information and identify the support they need.

In this article we will run through some proven techniques to help both the mentor and mentee develop effective mentoring conversations.

Active listening 

Mentors need good listening skills, but this can be easier said than done. The brain capacity to process information is four times the speed we can speak. This means the mind can easily wander off due to this spare brain capacity.

Our ears never close, they are constantly taking in and interpreting sound. Consequently 99% of sensory input is filtered out to prevent overload.

For these reasons what people are really saying can be missed if we are not fully present in the conversation.

Being present means stilling the mind, suspending judgement, postponing analysis, being able to concentrate and attend all the messages, what they say, how they are saying it and  what they are not saying.

Effective listening involves feeding back what you think are the relevant points to the speaker and checking that what you heard is what they meant.

Use Open Questions

Mentoring is about getting a person to open up and talk more, this often results in the mentee finding their own solutions. Mentoring is not about the mentor doing all the talking and providing the mentee with all the answers. A mentor may need to probe to unlock thoughts, feelings, aspirations, goals, values and priorities.

A mentor can use questions like “Can you expand more on that?” or “tell me more about that.”

Sometimes probing questions can be of a delicate nature and need “cushioning” - “Do you mind if I ask?”

Adding more and better questions adds value to the mentoring conversation.

Mind mapping

Mind maps, can be a useful tool in mentoring relationships. Start by writing and circling the issue or topic that needs exploring in the centre of a page. Next, draw out the issues associated with the central topic and place them in the map as branches radiating from the central topic. Each of these associated issues can be explored and developed in the same way. The resulting mind map can be used to evaluate which ideas are most important and worth pursuing first and which are less relevant to the situation. This can be a useful technique for a mentee having difficulty seeing his or her way forward.

Force field analysis

This can be a useful technique for considering the arguments for and against a course of action. A plan or proposal is recorded in the central of three columns. Favourable factors are listed in the first column; unfavourable factors are listed in the final column. By carrying out the analysis you can plan to strengthen the factors supporting a course of action, and to reduce the impact of opposing factors. Using lines, colour and even drawings or doodles on the force field analysis can be helpful in uncovering unknown hopes and fears and unappreciated strengths.

Personal quality profile

This can help when a mentee appears to be suffering from low self-esteem. Asking the mentee to list his or her personal qualities can boost confidence. A follow up exercise might be to encourage the mentee to ask two friends to describe how they see them. If their opinions do not match the mentee’s you might encourage them to work out why this is.

Appreciative inquiry

When a mentee is “stuck” or despondent you could ask them to recall a situation in which they felt successful or proud of an achievement. Then help the mentee to identify the factors which contributed to that achievement and feeling of well-being. Finally explore how some of those factors might be brought into play in the current situation.

Career scenarios

This is a longer-term strategy which could form the basis for a series of meetings. The mentee maps out in writing or diagrams up to three different career visions, taking into account his or her aims, abilities, constraints and knowledge of opportunities that might be available.

Encourage the mentee to add realistic timescales and to be prepared to move between differing versions rather than to stick rigidly to one so that failing at certain hurdles does not have such a big impact. In time one clear career path may emerge from this process. Identifying small steps towards bigger goals can be of great value.

To find out more about our mentoring service contact Lily on or call her on 0117 938 8320.

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