Organisational Development

Core mentoring skills

Learn more about the key skills and considerations that help mentors to build strong mentoring relationships.

How to establish a supportive environment and build rapport

A key responsibility of the mentor is to set up an environment in which the mentee feels able to speak freely, without fear of judgement or repercussions. This in part relates to establishing ground rules, but also other factors, such as:


The best location is a private, neutral space away from distractions of phone, email and other colleagues.


Enable sufficient time for the discussion to avoid the mentee feeling rushed or burdensome. Ensure that you will not be interrupted during a mentoring session.

The approach of the mentor

The mentor should listen, empathise and show an interest in their mentee. It is important to reserve judgement, demonstrate positive body language and be open and honest. A good mentor avoids being directive but is willing to share their own experiences.

The agenda and goals for discussions

In mentoring arrangements, the agenda and goals should be driven by the mentee. The mentor supports the mentee in exploring their ideas and should avoid leading the mentee to a particular conclusion or solution. This is often easier if the mentor is not the line-manager or a close colleague of the mentee.

Seperation from other work processes

To enable the mentee to speak freely, mentoring arrangements should be kept distinct and separate from other departmental processes (probation, performance management, appraisal, progression, etc…). Information learned in mentoring discussions should not be used to inform other work situations and processes.

How to listen effectively

In all mentoring discussions, you should listen significantly more than you talk.

Mentors should be active listeners. This involves listening not only to your mentee’s words, but also to their delivery, in order to gain deeper insight. Pay attention to:

  • tone of voice
  • non-verbal signals
  • body language

Demonstrate that you are listening through your body language, asking questions and by reflecting back what you’ve heard to the mentee in order check your understanding.

It is also important to consider what environment you require to maximise your ability to listen attentively to your mentee. This will likely require a quiet, private space away from other distractions.

Give consideration to your own frame of mind. What time of the day are you realistically able to give your mentee your full attention? Also be aware of how your own thoughts and emotions might affect your ability to listen objectively. 

How to question effectively

Being able to formulate and ask the right questions is a key skill for an effective mentor. An appropriately phrased question has the ability to unlock new ideas, challenge limiting assumptions and bring about new insights.

Good questions in mentoring are simple and generally require open ended responses (i.e. not closed questions requiring yes/no responses).

Questioning can be used to:
  • gather information
  • deepen understanding
  • clarify facts
  • explore different perspectives
  • highlight/Reflect on important points
  • demonstrate interest
  • move discussion forward
  • identify ideas or solutions
  • build commitment and motivation

As a mentor you should ask questions from a place of curiosity and avoid leading questions. The best ideas and solutions will come from the mentee themselves, therefore your questioning should not lead them to a pre-determined conclusion.

There are many questioning frameworks that mentors can draw upon. Some useful examples are GROW  and Appreciative Inquiry. However, be guided by your mentee and trust your intuition when it comes to questioning. If you are genuinely interested in your mentee and their development, then your questions will inevitably be useful to the individual.

Offering constructive feedback

As a mentor, you might be involved in providing feedback to your mentee if:

  • your mentee asks you directly for feedback on their work or professional activities
  • during mentoring discussions you spot an opportunity to feedback

In the second case, be careful to first ask the mentee if they would like some feedback. In most instances, the mentee will welcome your feedback, but providing unsolicited feedback during a discussion can break the mentee’s concentration or complicate the matter under discussion.

Remember the mnemonic BOOST to ensure your feedback is constructive for your mentee.

View the BOOST mnemonic


Balanced: Focus not only on areas for development, but also on strengths

Observed: Provide feedback based only upon behaviours that you have observed

Objective: Avoid judgements and relate your feedback to the observed behaviours, not personality

Specific: Back up your comments with specific examples of the observed behaviour

Timely: Give feedback soon after the activity to allow the learner the opportunity to reflect on the learning

How to access mentoring training

Visit out resources page for more information about mentoring at Sussex and where to access mentoring training.

Next steps

Contact us

Organisational Development
Human Resources
Sussex House
T 01273 606755 ext 4806

Professor Antonella de Santo on the skills of good mentors