The Power of Feedback

Providing constructive criticism can enhance the effectiveness of your relationship.

Larry Ambrose
Paula Moscinski

As a protege, it is up to you to give your mentor feedback on how to best meet your developmental needs and objectives. But before offering feedback, you need to take inventory of your mentoring experience and your progress, and identify what you need from your mentor to help you move forward. This process will assist you in clearly defining the areas in which your mentor is doing well and where he or she can do better, and it will also help you offer feedback that is constructive.

Take Inventory

There are a number of questions you can ask yourself that will help you assess your mentor and your progress, including:

  • Has my mentor devoted the necessary time, energy, and effort to our partnership?
  • How would I rate the level of trust in our relationship?
  • Does my mentor give me developmental feedback in a helpful manner?
  • What impact has the mentoring relationship had on my job, my skills, and my overall development?

Answers to such questions will help you clarify your level of satisfaction with your mentoring experience and prepare you for giving useful feedback to your mentor.

Give Feedback

Like many proteges, you may find it difficult to give your mentor feedback, especially if you have some dissatisfaction with the mentoring experience. After all, your mentor is giving of his or her time, probably voluntarily, and may be in a higher-level position than you. You don't want to seem ungrateful for your mentor's efforts, but if there are difficulties, your mentor should be informed of your concerns.

Following are steps for delivering feedback to your mentor in a tactful and confident way:

  • Develop a clear and concise description of the specific issues on which you wish to give feedback. For example, perhaps your mentor is not allowing enough time to meet with you. Or perhaps your mentor lectures too much and doesn't give you an opportunity to do your own thinking.
  • Ask your mentor's permission before you give feedback, so that your mentor will be more open to your input. You can broach the subject simply by saying, "I have some feedback I'd like to offer. Would you like to hear it?"
  • Before stating any criticisms, express specifics about what your mentor is doing that you appreciate: For example, you might say, "I like it that when I bring up a concern, you really take me and the issue seriously and offer ideas." Then, tell your mentor what is getting in the way of his or her mentoring effectiveness. You might add, "It would be even more helpful if you didn't describe your solutions and ideas quite so thoroughly and instead asked me what I might do in a situation."
  • Finally, thank your mentor for being open to the feedback, and together decide how you can flag such issues as they arise in the future.

Refresh the Partnership

While it may seem easier to say that everything is great when it is not, stating feelings clearly and asking for feedback from your mentor is key to confronting the reality of what might be happening in the relationship. One way for you and your mentor to test the condition of the relationship is to revisit the goals of the partnership to see if renewal is appropriate. Whether you decide to end, renew, or revive a mentoring relationship, it must be done consciously, intentionally, and openly. Both you and your mentor should continually assess your individual experiences and then meet to share assessments and give each other feedback. From there, you should jointly decide how to meet your mentoring needs, either by continuing the relationship or by finding a new mentor.

Larry Ambrose is a managing partner and Paula Moscinski is a senior consultant at Perrone-Ambrose Associates, Inc., an organizational development consulting firm that helps organizations create mentoring cultures.

Perrone-Ambrose Associates, Inc.
2 N. Riverside Plaza, Ste. 1433
Chicago, IL 60606
(800) 648-0543

From Healthcare Executive, September/October 2002