Getting Feedback from Your Mentors
by Dr. Linda Phillips-Jones (in memoriam) with slight edits by Dr. G. Brian Jones
When we talk with mentees similar to you about what they enjoy receiving from their mentors, they
almost always say "getting honest feedback." They certainly enjoy the positive, encouraging comments about how they perform well. In fact, they’d like even more of those statements from their mentors!
And vast majority of mentees also appreciate the corrective feedback their mentors provide. They’re grateful when their mentors catch them doing something wrong or not quite as good as it could be and call them on it. They usually admit that the corrective feedback isn’t especially fun to receive, and in fact it sometimes hurts for awhile. Yet, effective mentees crave it and do their best to receive and apply it.
What about you? Have you been successful in getting the feedback you need from mentors and others who try to help you develop? If so, keep doing what you’re doing! And please e-mail us (firstname.lastname@example.org) with your strategies so we can pass them on (anonymously) to others trying to stretch in this area. If you’re not getting frank feedback, think about why this may be so, and consider using the tips below.
1. Think about how you respond to feedback in general…improve if needed.
What do you do when someone praises you? Criticizes you? Does it depend on who the person is, what he/she says, your history with this person, your mood that day? You’re not alone! We all find receiving both kinds of feedback challenging at times. One of your jobs as a mentee is to handle feedback, in fact to pursue it with enthusiasm! Get a handle on how you usually respond, and see if you can stretch.
When you receive a compliment: say thanks with a smile and don’t try to minimize the importance of your successful action. When you receive a criticism, take inventory of how you react. Consider our ideas in items 3 and 4 below.
2. Identify the skills on which you’d most like to be critiqued.
Before you engage any mentors’ help, have some goals, preferably skills you want to gain or improve. Let’s say you want to improve your overall ability to make strong presentations. Let your mentors know on what aspects you’d like them to focus their feedback first: the content, your voice, pace, body language, eye contact, visuals, audience questions, etc. Their time is precious, so instead of expecting them to be full-time speech coaches, ask for feedback either on what’s most difficult for you or what they think is your biggest area for improvement.
3. Determine your feedback preferences.
For positive feedback, many of us don’t mind hearing it in front of people as well as privately. Is that true for you? Or does your culture and background make it very embarrassing to hear praise in public? If so, ask your mentors to deliver their accolades when they and you are alone. Perhaps learn to accept this cultural practice.
For corrective feedback, the general rule for U.S. culture is that it should always be given privately. Be sure to discuss this with your mentors and ask specifically that they do this. Further, do you like your criticism "blunt" or do you prefer a "sandwich" (praise, then the criticism, ending with another praise)? Neither way is right or wrong, so identify what helps you most. Propose your preferred way to your mentors…and consider trying out the other from time to time. The more flexible you become on receiving feedback, the more likely your mentors are going to be willing to help you grow.
4. Invite your mentor to give you positive and corrective input.
Early in your mentoring relationships, even as early as the first meeting or two, bring up the topic of feedback. Suggest that the two of you go over possibilities. If you invite this input, your mentors will be more likely to give it than if you stay silent.
5. Work on being non-defensive in your responses to correction.
Most of us, if we’re honest, really don’t enjoy receiving so-called negative feedback, even if our mentors label it as “constructive input.” Yet, we know feedback will help us. So block your impulse to get irritated, laugh it off, or otherwise be defensive about corrective feedback sent your way. Go back to item 1 to think about your typical responses, and see if you can use your mentoring relationships to experiment with new behaviors.
Let’s say your mentor gives you a fairly sharp criticism. You can pause, take it in, weigh it, see if there is a glimmer of truth in the statement, and thank the person for being candid with you. If you know the criticism is correct and helpful, say something like: "I’d like to work on that. Can I count on you to coach me as I’m trying to change my old approach?"
If the criticism doesn’t feel accurate, still be polite. "Hmmm, I appreciate that honest feedback. I’d like you to point out exactly what you’re seeing/hearing. (Wait for more details.) Let me process that for a day or so." Think about it for 24 hours and get back to the person. If you can, agree to make some shift in your behavior based on what you conclude. If the person clearly misperceived what you did: "I’m still not seeing what I did and need another example. Could you point it out again the next time you see it?" Your positive tone of voice and smile tells your mentor you’re open to his/her help.
6. Reinforce your mentors for taking these steps with you.
Most mentors say that they continually struggle with giving both positive and corrective feedback, so encourage your partners in their efforts. Even if they don’t package their correction remarks well, dig for the truth in them and try to apply it. As your relationships grow, give your mentors feedback on how they could be even more helpful in their delivery. Say “thanks,” catch them doing it right, praise them for good attempts, and continue to invite more. You’ll be amazed at how much they and others will want to be on your cheering squad as you continue to excel in your life.
For more ideas on being an effective mentee, check What We Offer and our Archive.
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