I have known the difference between coaching and mentoring for a while now. Or so I thought. To coach you ask questions, to mentor you give answers. Simple, isnt’t it? Well rather simplistic and quite mechanical. Completely off the point, actually.
It is what your counterpart needs in that very moment, that makes them a coachee or mentee.
Now if you’ve had such conversations in the past you’ll rightly say “it’s all nice in theory but you can’t switch every 5 minutes between coaching and mentoring, you shouldn’t even switch in the first place. It is just nonsense!”. True to a certain extent, a conversation or relationship starts primarily in one or the other dimension. Still I am not a fan of shoulds and shouldn’ts. My take is rather: Be ready to switch if you feel this would be beneficial for your coachee/mentee.
So what if your counterpart explicitely says they want mentoring: do you give it without questioning whether it is what they need? Or do you build in coaching pit-stop moments to verify who is actually in the lead? I often find that in primary mentoring relationships, coaching comes in handy when my counterpart is stuck in an unproductive behavioral pattern (e.g. Missing key messages, interpreting comments in a negative way) that prevents them from making progress on their business objectives. In these cases I don’t use coaching for the sake of it but rather for unlocking the situation. After a while we move back to mentoring and business talk.
Now I have also noticed that primary coaching relationships also need a bit of mentoring in the shape of open discussion or sparring on tangible factual business topics. Why is that? Coaching behaviors is quite a strenuous undertaking both for the coach and the coachee, it is serious business requiring a lot of self-awareness, open-mindedness, listening, accepting fall-backs and getting back on track. I view the open non-coaching discussions as breaks, where coach and coachee can connect on a different level. It is hardly mentoring either, yet it often starts with the coachee saying “since we’ve known each other for a while, I was wondering if I could pass by you a business issue I have right now, … , what would you do?”. As a coach it allows you to show a bit more of who you are as a human being (coaches, in the eyes of many people, seem to come from a different planet!). You can show that when you are non-judgemental as a coach, it doesn’t mean you are not able to have an opinion, it means that your coaching skills allow you to remain distanced enough to create space for the coachee to grow on their own. It increases the trust on both sides and allows coach and coachee to resume the coaching relationship with renewed energy.
How do you experience navigating coaching and mentoring? Do you mix and match or are you rather sticking to a primary type of conversation?
I’d love to hear what experiences you have made in this field…