As a mentor, you build a relationship and a position of trust with your mentee. During the discussions, your mentee may reveal a range of things to you such as their ambitions, their concerns, their history, their expectations and more.
There may be a day when in the midst of those discussions, you become aware that the mentee (or someone they work with) is breaking organisational policies or rules.
As a mentor you have a responsibility to your employer to ensure the organisation is compliant with governance and legislation. You also have a confidentiality agreement with your mentee. SO you are now in a position of conflict.
What do you do?
- discuss with the mentee what is actually happening – this will help determine if there is indeed an issue and ensure the level of the mentee’s awareness
- raise the incident as an issue with the mentee
- note that the area the mentee is from has responsibility to follow organisational protocols
- explain to the mentee that you are now in a position as a member of the organisation
- ask the mentee how best to handle the matter now – this is a great teachable moment and you can help them to think through the strategies and potential outcomes to arrive at a mutually agreeable decision
What ideas do you have for handling this dilemma?
Generally speaking a mentor has a focus on asking questions rather than talking too much in a discussion. There will be a sharing of information and the meeting certainly doesn’t want to be an inquisition but a comfortable mix of questions, answers and input will lead to a productive session.
Many mentors are experienced managers and as good managers we often fall into the expediency trap and pepper our conversation with colleagues with closed questions – “did you”, “will you”, “have they’, “is it” etc. In our time-pressured environments, we’re sometimes only wanting to verify information rather than end up on long discussions.
In a mentoring context, closed questions can be really useful if you want to focus a discussion or control a conversation if your mentee is want to talk a lot or evade answering for example.
The old favourites “who, what, why, when, where and how” establish a round of open-ended questions which will also serve you well. This questioning technique draws out more information, enables someone to give fuller answers and helps you to probe a little more deeply to identify issues or get the mentee to expand their thinking.
A word of caution: use the “why” question sparingly – it often puts people on the defensive and you’re not likely to want to go there in a mentoring relationship!
So, check in with the amount of questioning vs talking you are doing a in a mentoring conversation, and the type of questions you are using to elicit responses.