Business Bites: How to be a great mentor

Nick Walsh FBDO
ABDO sector skills development officer

For any mentor, giving feedback can be difficult to get right. This article explores some strategies to help mentors provide effective, tailored feedback to their mentees.

It can often be quite a challenge to offer clear and constructive suggestions to mentees in a way that isn’t seen to be condescending. However, constructive feedback is essential if a mentee is to make progress and continual improvement.

One of the key drivers in providing effective feedback is personality. By trying to understand your mentee’s personality you will be able to frame your feedback to fit their preferences. This can mean the difference between upsetting someone and helping them to flourish.

DISC classification of personality types

The DISC classification broadly categorises four personality types:

  • D (dominance)
  • I (influence)
  • S (steadiness)
  • C (conscientiousness)

The differences between these types are extremely important in determining your approach to feedback conversations.

D personality types: Winners

  • Motivated by control over the future and personal authority
  • Needs to achieve results more than anything else
  • Will take charge and get the job done, projecting confidence
  • May seem lacking in empathy and patience

When giving feedback to D types, keep feedback straightforward and direct. Avoid talking around the issue. Directly address any concerns, challenge them to do better and help them work toward their goals. Make sure you offer concrete examples so they understand what is being asked of them.

Try using phrases like:

  • “I want to challenge your thinking on this”
  • “Here’s how it compares to the others”
  • “Let’s go back to the goal we started with”
  • “Do you want to take this feedback and try again?”

Top tips for D types:

  • Don’t be too gentle in your criticism
  • Don’t  be vague
  • Don’t focus too much on process

I personality types: Enthusiasts

  • A social butterfly who is happiest gaining popularity and the approval of their peers.
  • Skilled at building networks
  • Energetic and expressive

Optimistic, people-oriented I types tend to appreciate when feedback is presented in a conversation. Help them feel comfortable by asking them questions, or sharing what was good about their performance, before diving into discussing anything negative. Make sure they have an opportunity to share their perspective and try to wrap up the meeting with something positive.

Try using phrases like:

  • “This is only my opinion”
  • “What motivated you to do this?”
  • “Let’s go through the weaker parts together”
  • “What have the others said so far?”

Top tips for I types:

  • Don’t expect them to diagnose problems on their own
  • Don’t be too rigid in the expected results
  • Don’t require them to provide their own next steps
  • Don’t discourage their creativity

S personality types: Peacekeepers

  • Values sincerity and dependability; is always there to listen and support
  • May appear overly cautious at times
  • Open to all sides of an argument and look for a win-win solution

Patient, sensitive S-types generally prefer feedback, which addresses what they do well in addition to discussing necessary improvements. They like to be appreciated for their hard work and will likely feel dejected if it goes unacknowledged. Avoid being overly harsh or serious in tone; instead, focus on presenting feedback in a gentle, patient way. Offer to help in areas where it may be needed.

Try using phrases like:

  • “I think you did very well there, but to take it to the next level”
  • “Would you be happy to have some help on this?”
  • “You clearly put a lot of time into this”

Top tips for S types:

  • Don’t ask for all of their reasons for doing something
  • Don’t use competition as a motivator to improve
  • Don’t use an overly serious tone
  • Don’t be too intense in your critique

C personality types: Analysts

  • Accuracy is what drives the data-focused analyst
  • Won’t be swayed by emotion or pressure and can be difficult to get to know
  • Show personal restraint that hides their reactions and feelings

Detailed, analytical C types tend to prefer feedback to be clear and specific. If you’re going to present a problem to C types, make sure you work with them toward potential solutions; give them a chance to share ideas they may have. Focus on following a logical order within the meeting and avoid bringing in personal details, which may cause a loss of objectivity.

Use phrases like:

  • “How did you arrive at this solution?”
  • “This is the part that we specifically need to address”
  • “How would you do this differently?”
  • “Let’s go through this logically”

Top tips for C types:

  • Don’t lose focus when they explain their thinking
  • Keep things objective rather than personal
  • Don’t question their ability
  • Don’t be open-ended with your opinions

Constructive feedback gives us the tools we need to grow and improve, but it needs to be presented in an empathetic way. Feedback can easily get lost in translation if the way you communicate it doesn’t fit the other person’s personality. Always make the effort to adapt your communication style and offer feedback in a way that helps the other person.

Find more information on mentoring here.

Join the ABDO peer-to-peer mentoring platform here.