Effective Feedback and Difficult Conversations:
Learning Pearls for Mentors and Mentees

Giving and Receiving Feedback
  • From the start, make feedback an integral part of the mentoring relationship.
  • Feedback should be “two‐way,” with both mentor and mentee assessing their relationship at defined times.
  • Be clear that you ARE giving feedback.
    • Use specific, non‐judgmental, descriptive language.
    • Avoid using the passive voice.
  • Include data that are concrete, observed directly, consistent, and thematic; if possible, provide more than one person’s input (de‐identified) and more than one observation.
  • Ask clear questions to understand the mentee’s experience, assessment of the situation, and point of view
  • Provide feedback regularly and frequently.
    • Feedback, both positive and negative, should be a regularly scheduled component of the mentoring relationship (i.e., the rule, not the exception).
    • Ongoing feedback helps to establish and solidify the relationship.
    • Situational feedback (positive and negative) should be provided as soon after the relevant interaction as possible.
  • Maintain a strong level of trust with the mentee in the face of negative feedback.
  • Mentors should use the feedback opportunity to ally with the mentee about ways to improve the situation:
    • “I need your help to better understand this situation.”
    • “What can you do to change the behavior, perception ….?”
  • Ensure common understanding by summarizing, and/or asking the mentee to summarize, the key points of the discussion.
  • Follow through on the feedback; offer “options” for career paths and guidance that might be suitable.
Problematic Mentoring Relationships: Having a Difficult Conversation
  • Transparency on both sides is important.
  • A mentor need not feel like a failure if her mentee is not successful.
  • Early intervention is important in order to redirect the relationship if it starts to go sour.
  • A mentee should be involved in problem solving, particularly if he has contributed to the problem
  • If a mentee is unsuccessful, a mentor should redirect him towards something else he or she can succeed at.
  • Discuss recommendations for improving the relationship and re‐assess progress at defined times.
  • A person outside the relationship may be needed to help when conflicts occur
    • A division chief or department chair may be helpful, but mentors and/or mentees may not feel comfortable using them as resources.
    • It is important to have more impartial resources available, such as an ombudsperson, or representative from a professionalism office, faculty development office, or an Employee Assistance Program if available.

What are the warning signs or symptoms of a problematic mentoring relationship?

  • Needs are unmet
  • Cost greater than benefit
  • Feelings of distress or harm
  • Frustration
  • Diminishing expectations
  • Lack of assimilating to the culture
  • Repeated misunderstandings
  • Lack of progress on projects
  • Missed deadlines
  • Repeatedly cancelled meetings/unprepared at meetings

What are the costs of this type of relationship? (i.e. Why should we resolve this?)

  • Opportunities lost (project/fellowship/grant/etc. could have gone to someone else)
  • Reputation of program (national, but also with agencies that offer grants)
  • Employment (current and future)
  • Clinical, research, and education costs

What are the diagnoses or issues that could be causing the problems?

  • Poor matching
  • Faulty communication
  • In-congruent expectations
  • Role conflicts/Multiple roles
  • Exploitation/Neglect
  • Incompetence
  • Personality Disorder

What are the solutions and traits to make a good mentor/mentee relationship?

  • Selection of the mentor:
    • Consider intentional versus incidental (e.g., inherent biases?  Gender, race, age, religion?)
    • Consider career vs. job oriented mentors
    • Commitment to role (Mentor or Mentee)
    • Compatible temperament and style
    • Consider Relevance of Hierarchy
  • Relationship structure:
    • Clear expectations
    • Protected meeting times
    • Periodic reevaluations
    • Increased independence
    • Designate an expiration date
  • Dependability:
    • Adhere and prioritize mentoring
    • Avoid “inspiration only”
    • Provide reasonable turn-around time
  • Transparency:
    • Protect and sponsor publicly
    • Self-disclose when needed; show confidentiality
    • Show “how” in view of the mentee
    • Provide correction and bring up the “elephant”