Feedback in Mentorship: Constructive or Criticizing?

Learning to give and get feedback is one of the most valuable professional tools a person can have, and coaching is no exception to the rule. Coaches want to know what they did well and didn’t do well, and supervisors want to be able to communicate this information clearly and constructively.

But all too often, feedback can be taken personally. It can feel like a personal insult, threatening the image they have of themselves in the therapy room. Here are a few guidelines for coaches and mentors alike to make sure that feedback is constructive instead of critical.

For Mentors:

You have two jobs as a mentor or coach, and the first is to make sure that the client isn’t being harmed and is receiving good care. Any feedback you give should center around what is in the client’s best interest, and what is ethically responsible.

Your second job is to help your mentee learn to identify what works and doesn’t work. You might have a really good insight on the tip of your tongue, but why not ask the mentee what he or she thought she did well or didn’t well? “What could you have done differently?” should always precede your own suggestions. It’s not supervision if you’re doing all the work.

When giving feedback, it’s also important to avoid modifying words like “good” or “bad.” Mentorship isn’t just about a coach wanting to earn your approval—it’s about getting them to see their strengths and weaknesses and motivate themselves to do better. So instead of saying, “That was a really good question to ask,” you can say, “You asked that question and look what the client was able to see!” Focusing on the results takes the pressure off and helps your supervisee see the bigger picture.

For Coaches:

The best thing you can do as a coach is learn not to take feedback personally. You get mentorship to learn to be a better coach, so it won’t serve any purpose if your mentor or coach only talks about what you did well. If you can show up to your mentoring session with specific examples of how you’d like to improve, then you’ll be more prepared to hear your mentor’s or coach’s suggestions as well.

You might feel the urge sometimes to disagree with feedback that you hear. You should feel free to share your thoughts, but first pay attention to what your mentor or coach has to say. If you’re feeling particularly defensive or anxious, it might be because of other events that have occurred during the day or because working with that particular client has proven difficult for you.

Being honest about your reactions but also open to your mentor or supervisor makes for the best mentoring relationship. So embrace feedback. Seek it out and apply it to your work, rather than simply running away from it.