My mentoree is wrong. What do I do now?
Perhaps the thought in your mind is not quite so harsh as, “My mentoree is wrong”. But you will most likely have had the experience of being concerned about the wisdom of a position they hold or something they have done, or intend to do. As you start to explore the matter you realise you significantly disagree with your mentoree. In that moment, the usual safe, collaborative environment you have worked hard to develop can drain away and you’re confronted with a conflict.
What are you going to do? Here are ten suggestions:
- Pay attention to, and manage your emotions. You’ll do much better at communicating respectfully and constructively if you hose down any anxiety you may feel.
- Expect disagreements will happen and contract clearly up front. Mentoring should never be coercive or controlling, but it is rarely completely non-directive. As you begin working together, talk about what level of evaluation and advising is appropriate for your mentoring partnership.
- Beware of your power. A remark you intend as a gentle challenge can land heavily and create unhelpful pressure.
- Consider what is at stake. What happens if your mentoree persists in what you think is an error? Who is likely to be adversely affected? Is this really a potential catastrophe? Or might this simply result in a painful learning experience?
- Ask questions to genuinely understand rather than to unsettle. It’s obvious that questions will be more useful to you as a mentor than statements, but subversive questions can still have a coercive effect. Let your questions arise from a humble and curious heart.
- Critique the process of thinking more than the conclusion. Where your mentoree has come to is a result of the path they took to get there. Improving ways of thinking is far more transformative than correcting a single idea.
- Explore influences and alternative perspectives. People are often unaware of the influences at work in their thinking and have not considered other ways of seeing things because they have never been presented with them.
- Would you push this hard if you agreed? Whether you agree or disagree with your mentoree’s views and decisions, it’s always important to help them reflect thoroughly. Your approval or disapproval should not make a massive difference to how hard you push that reflective process.
- Have your mentoree do the summarising. Even if you, as mentor, usually give a reflective precis of what you’ve discussed at the end of a session, hold back on this when you’ve been working through something you disagree about. Let the mentoree assign relative weight to the points that have been covered.
- Don’t play games. It’s not valid to lecture your mentoree with your opinions to correct what you think is their error, but you do need to be authentic. You might withhold your views until you’ve properly explored those of your mentoree but not to the point of creating a false impression.
– Rick Lewis, November 2023