Mentors on their best behaviour at Westminster

Here, Bob Thomson, author of Non-Directive Coaching: Attitudes, Approaches and Applications, talks about a recent training session he gave at the University of Westminster, and pulls out some key messages for you.

I spent an enjoyable evening with some very interesting people at the University of Westminster recently. At Julia’s suggestion, I was speaking about coaching and mentoring to Rebecca Eliahoo and her colleagues. Rebecca oversees a staff mentoring scheme there, and the people I met were using mentoring to support colleagues, trainee teachers, and adult learners in Further Education colleges.

Together we explored a number of themes from my book Non-Directive Coaching: Attitudes, Approaches and Applications. We spent some time considering different behaviours that a mentor might use, ranging from giving instructions, offering advice and making suggestions at the directive end of the spectrum to listening, questioning and reflecting back at the non-directive end. A mentor can engage in any of these behaviours in a conversation, and I think it’s vital that the mentor does this with a clear awareness of their intention. And, if you’re going to make a suggestion, don’t disguise it in the form of a leading question. Would you not agree that this is important?

We went on to share ideas on when it was more helpful to operate at each end of the directive to non-directive spectrum. One time when it’s useful to be directive is when there is a right answer. If you know how to fix the photocopier, just tell me! However, if your mentee is a final year student pondering what career to follow, there’s not necessarily a right answer, and it’s vital that the mentee not the mentor identifies the future career direction that will satisfy the mix of hopes and dreams and needs and fears that they are experiencing.

We ended by considering the nature of a coaching or mentoring relationship. I find it useful to think in Transactional Analysis terms of Parent, Adult and Child ego states and behaviours. One of the risks in mentoring from the directive end of the spectrum is that it may set up a Parent – Child relationship where the mentee is continually looking to the mentor to provide the answers. I think that coaching and mentoring work best when the relationship is an Adult – Adult one, based on rapport and trust.

Click on the image below to download Bob’s Powerpoint slides, used in support of his seminar:


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