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  • Writer's pictureMatt Shaw

The Dos and Don’ts to Becoming an Excellent Mentor

Updated: Apr 27, 2020

By: Paula Sillers

What makes a Good Mentor, you ask? 

To me, a suitable mentor is someone who sees potential, encourages success and is able to support and guide others. My previous experience as a mentor has taught me that a good mentor doesn’t seek acceptance or friendship from their mentee, but instead looks for ways to communicate and relate with their mentee to build a positive relationship. With this, a good mentor focuses on their mentee, while seeking to understand their goals and expectations to best enhance possible growth.

In this article, I will introduce some dos and don’ts that I have noticed to be very significant in the role of a mentor.


1. Use Verbal and Non-Verbal Communication

Think back to your most recent conversation with someone. Could you tell if that person was engaged/unengaged in the conversation? Body language and a person’s physicality play a big role in any conversation. In a mentoring role, it’s important to be aware of what messages you’re sending even when you aren’t speaking. Be conscious of non-verbal communication. Some tips on how to succeed at communicating non-verbally include:

  1. Leaning forward slightly and facing your mentee. This demonstrates that you are interested in what they’re saying.

  2. Maintain an open posture, because folding your arms can signal that you are closed off and uninterested in the conversation.

  3. Always maintain eye contact, but do not stare.

  4. Try to refrain from making distracting movements, such as, foot-tapping or finger-drumming.

  5. Maintain a comfortable distance from your mentee. Standing too close could make them uncomfortable and standing too far could be a sign of disinterest.

  6. Let the mentee set the pace of the conversation so they don’t feel rushed or uncomfortable.

  7. Lastly, smile when appropriate. A smile can be very encouraging J

2. Self-Disclose

Self-Disclosure is the act of ‘opening up’ about your own personal experiences. I believe that sharing your experiences can be very helpful at strengthening any mentor/mentee relationship. In doing this, your mentee is more likely to see you as someone who is approachable and, in return, may be encouraged to share more about themselves. To be skillful at disclosing personal experiences is being able to decide what, and how much to reveal. Generally, good practice is to reveal only as much as is relevant and helpful. Some guidelines for self-disclosure are as follows:

  1. Always being clear that your purpose is to help the other person express themselves more freely.

  2. Keep it brief – focus on how you resolved a situation or how it felt, rather than getting into the details.

  3. Be careful that you don’t distort the overall balance of the relationship – the mentee should always remain at the centre and focus on the relationship, not the mentor.

  4. When in doubt, don’t reveal anything.

3. Be Emotionally Intelligent

As you get to know your mentee, you need to keep in mind that every mentor/mentee relationship is different. As you find yourself getting to know your mentees unique personality, their wants and needs, life experiences, values and so forth, you’ll need to be mindful about how you unlock this information. Be sure to:

  1. Respect the autonomy and individuality of your mentee.

  2. Use non-discriminatory language without cultural or racial connotations.

  3. Be aware of religious and cultures differences including; proximity, time-awareness, non-verbal communication techniques (ie. eye contact), etc.

  4. Be aware that what is viewed as humorous or appropriate depends on one’s interpretation.


1. Give Advice

Often, mentees will come to you for advice and as a mentor you feel obligated to share what you would do if you were in their shoes. Generally speaking, one’s role as a mentor is notto give advice. Giving advice can be useful if your mentee requires specific information or accurate answers. For example, if your mentee needed help locating a particular academic service on campus. However, I think it’s important for your mentee to practice thinking through certain challenges and arriving at a solution independently. In situations like this I would recommend starting off with providing your mentee with various solutions and he/she can decide whether that is the right approach. Over time, your mentee will learn how to come to solutions on their own. If you are asked directly for advice, try using statements like:

  1. What do you think?

  2. Let’s make a list of the pros and cons

  3. If someone was asking you the same question, what would you suggest?

2. Break Confidentiality

It’s very important to be mindful of people’s personal information and experiences. Any good mentor-mentee relationship thrives on trust, and that means confidentiality must be respected at all times. In addition, it’s very important to be respectful of your mentee. You should always refrain from speaking negatively and/or gossiping about your mentees.

3. Make Assumptions– always ask.

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