Socratically Inspired Mentoring

by Susan Feland

If you consider yourself successful, chances are you have had a mentor your life somewhere along the way to help guide you. Now, you may want to return the favor and positively impact the life path of someone else, especially as the end of 2018 draws near. Based on lessons from eMentor’s most successful mentors, we offer the following tips to set you and your mentee up for success:

  1. Ask open-ended questions. It is too easy to “tell” people what to do and how to do it. It is easy to say “you need to do” something or you “should do” this or that. Instead, it is much more powerful and helpful for mentors to engage their mentees with questions that will help lead them to the right decision for them.
  2. Keep in mind the mentor may have different interests, goals or values than the mentee and it is not fair to assume what “works” for the mentor will “work” others.
  3. Use questions to encourage the mentee to explore and evaluate all aspects of a challenge. Let the mentee determine the path that is right for him or her after gaining perspective and thinking through all facets of the situation. Some examples of wise questions a mentor might want to use are:
    • What do you see as possible options?
    • What would success look like for you in 1 year? In 5 years?
    • What resources would you need to be successful?
    • How are you going to celebrate when you are successful?

Consider how Socrates wisely guided Plato and is considered one of the most powerful teachers and mentors. He believed that people with a sound mind already fundamentally have the “basic truths of life deep inside of one’s being, even if unaware of possessing this knowledge.” Through conversation and a series of questions, Socrates would help people to discover and articulate their own knowledge, rather than force an idea or words into their minds. If you are a mentor, we encourage you to “socratically” engage your protege with open-ended questions and if you are a protege, we encourage you to enjoy tapping into the wisdom you have within you.