The Psychology of Mentoring

Looking into the psychology of mentorship can be beneficial before you start so that you have the correct mindset and expectations. This applies to both the mentor and mentee.

Matthew Reeves

CEO of Together

Published on 

May 30, 2019

Updated on 

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A lot can be said about the power of mentorship. Through good organisation to proactive use of technology.  Finding the right people  can lead to success stories for years to come. The idea behind mentorship programs is passing on of wisdom, tips, and providing a support system for someone who wants to further themselves in their education, career or even personal life. The good thing is it is not confined to one area.

Mentors can appear in everyday life as well as through organised programs at work. The focus is usually on building up existing strengths rather than focus fully on negative aspects and trying to learn a new skill. We are all capable of learning and taking in new information that we need to do a particular task. A mentor would be someone who helps to get that task complete by showing you new ways of thinking or learning, not holding your hand through the task itself.

It is great to have a structure in place, and ideas of what to expect when entering a fresh mentorship with regards to a schedule, meetings, content and topics, but both parties have an important role to play that involves time and dedication to the program to be able to see it through. This is why looking into the psychology of mentorship can be beneficial before you start so that you have the correct mindset and expectations. This applies to both the mentor and mentee. There are fantastic tips to think about before you set off on your journey into a mentoring program.

The psychology of mentoring isn’t a scary subject that needs to be remembered word for word when becoming a mentor, it is just good to know how the thought process works from a mentee aspect so you are able to focus on their strengths and help improve aspects of their working lives. By identifying talents and skills, the mentorship becomes instantly more productive. Positive psychology works on what is going well and what can be broadened, not focusing on problems areas like ill health as traditional psychology does.

As a mentor, if you are able to help shift a person’s mindset from what is not working to what is working and how they can build from that point, you are off to a flying start. Change is not something that everybody adapts well too, especially initially.There has been huge amounts of work done on “resistance to change” and “change management”. A typical example is when a person knows they want to change something, or maybe it is not so much a want and they need to change something to progress in their careers, but they don’t know how as it means changing life long habits. Learning and adapting to change is not easy, but a good mentor will have faced  difficult obstacles themselves and drawing upon and sharing experiences is the foundation to successful growth in any program.

“If you do what you’ve always done, you will get what you’ve always got.”

This quote has been around for many years, and many have claimed they coined the phrase. However, what really matters is the point it is trying to make. It is very easy in business to see things working and keep doing them the same way. But in many ways, in order to move any business or career forward, change is imperative to be able to adapt and grow. Sure, financial reports might tell a positive story, but that story ends with you if you don’t expand and share the knowledge for future generations to either learn from or aspire to.

From the perspective of the mentee the reason for change may be simply because they are stuck in a rut, even if they are enjoying their day to day work. Complacency  might mean that they are no longer pushing forward. The desire to change or advanced can be enabled when it is backed up by the motivation and channels of support and experience a mentoring program brings with it.

Questions help unlock the mentees mind

“What can you change about yourself?”

“What can you change about the situation?”

For the most part, changing the situation is a lot harder than making a smaller change within yourself. An event within the mentee’s career may be causing a lot of stress in their life and can initiate reactions that are less positive. This can be a stumbling block for the next move in their career.

In order to adapt to the idea of change and to move away from the stressful and into the positive, it would be better to look at their reaction to the situation and how that can be changed in order to move away from it. It is very important to remember you can’t necessarily change the events, but you can change your responses to them. Once this realisation becomes a reality it leaves room for growth in a career. This is hugely linked to positive psychology of mentoring and the idea of resilience.


Encouraging resilience in a mentee can help them in their professional life and personal life. Being able to deal with difficult situations  instead of sinking behind them, looking at them as opportunities is an important life skill that can help anybody. Think of an actor starting to look for roles in the industry. They may have to go on hundreds of auditions, travel long distances and learn how to network to try and find a way in. At the first knock back, it would not work out well for their career if they heard only the bad in the critiques and decided not to go to any further auditions. The way they work is to take on board the positives and suggestions to improve their craft and practice, practice, practice. Resilience doesn’t come easily, but it is something that everyone can benefit from in their personal lives and careers.

Having the ability to deal with difficult situations and pressures in any industry requires resilience. Getting back on the horse, so to speak, can be hard for anyone to do, but learning how to turn this into a skill can open many doors. Becoming a mentor and talking about this subject with a mentee can be a huge stepping stone and even greater starting off point for the mentorship. If you can find out what kind of setbacks a person has encountered, it will create great subject matter for meetings.It can give mentees an initial purpose to keep pushing forward and avoid the stresses of potential challenges of future endeavours before they have even had the chance to happen.

Four Patterns of Career Resilience

Building career resilience is not a one-off event. It is instead something that is ongoing and is visible. While not technically measurable, progress can be seen and having resilience can change a lot in a person’s life.

There are four basic patterns in career resilience that can be worked on during a mentorship that will create a good topic for discussion while both parties try to observe improvements.


It can be really easy to slip into a pattern at work, looking after the areas of the job you are tasked with and not paying much attention to the outside world. Being able to find clarity in your purpose and how you will achieve your goal can open up your eyes to see the bigger picture and know where you stand. Mentors should be able to encourage their mentee to take time out from the norm and have a reflective approach. In doing this they may be able to see opportunities arising, perhaps a project or new strategy that they can take on. This comes back to staying exactly where you are if you do what you always do. By having a positive approach toward clarifying their position, their success, their room for improvement, they may just see something they haven’t seen before and find a way to build from this.


Having people on your side is a must to be able to find success. Climbing the rungs of the career ladder is never just based on a person’s skill alone.  Creating  a network of people that you trust and that can be supportive in your moves can be the difference between staying where you are and reaching your goals as planned. A mentor is a great example of this type of connection. The First step has already been taken as far as reaching out to people who may be able to help you get to where you want to go.

Mentors will always talk about networking as one of the most important parts of their career, so time should be spent really taking this into account and doing something about it. Think about smaller businesses or self-employed tradespeople. Without the power of networking and connecting their businesses would not be able to thrive. Even the biggest companies started out somewhere and it may even take one person to see a social media post, to read a flyer, or to stumble across an advert to help take that business to the next level. Networking now is more important than ever in making the connections needed to take you to the next step and having resilience will make finding these connections a whole lot easier.


For successful business people, creating can be the easiest part of their job. Being able to innovate and come up with new ideas to help take the business forward is what makes it so successful. But in a lot of industries, creativity can be hard for employees who don’t know how to get to the next step in their career and don’t see the opportunity to do so. A mentor should encourage creativity in their mentee’s work life. Is there something they can change in their own personal work? Are there ideas they can put forward to someone who will allow them the challenge of taking it forward? Creativity doesn’t just stop at the idea, but actually stretching themselves to run with it and then analyse their findings.

A great sign of resilience is somebody who has the confidence to bring new ideas to the table and invite discussion about it to ensure everyone is onboard. When it comes to a mentee’s personal workload, creativity can be in the form of making changes to their organisation, creating schedules, and changing the way they handle day-to-day tasks. Taking a risk on something can lead to bigger and better opportunities so this should always be encouraged.


Coming up with healthy coping patterns in personal lives can have a huge impact on work life and creating that balance is a sign of resilience. A mentor will usually talk about how they dealt with difficult situations, lengthy workloads and feeling like they could have done with a few more hours in the day on many occasions. Learning how to cope with these situations has to be an important factor in career success and can be a great jumping off point as it is a relatable subject. Everyone at times has felt that their work life has taken over their personal life and they  have no time to enjoy the benefits of their career. But the effects of that kind of burn out will impact negatively and reflect on their quality of work.

Managing emotional responses cannot be taught directly but the seed can be planted in a mentee so that they can manage their own ways of coping and build a fantastic work and personal life relationship. Being able to control these emotional responses and remain optimistic throughout various career challenges is a challenge in itself. Using this in a positive way shows great resilience and growth.

When you put all of those four patterns of resilience together, they make perfect sense.They cover all areas that can be worked through in a mentoring program. So if you are embarking on a mentor/mentee relationship remember the four C’s – Clarifying, Connecting, Creating and Coping and think about where you fall under these categories and how you can build resilience from them.

The Dimensions of Resilience

Now we have covered the subjects and the patterns of resilience, we can delve a little deeper into the workings behind it. These ideas are a little more specific and can work for a mentoring relationship to provide direct ideas on what to change to improve resilience. The psychology of mentoring is about dissecting how you think, and carefully changing things to have an impact on your future.

Building resilience

A mentee has already made the first step into their future by accepting and reaching out to a mentor for guidance and support. It is hugely important that a mentee realises the road may be difficult and challenging but life will continue to throw these hurdles and to get where they want to go, they must build resilience. In knowing what they believe, what they stand for and how they want to achieve their goal, they will have already grasped the concept of what career resilience means.

Being Active – This follows directly on from the previous point  as mentors should be encouraging activity from those they mentee and not just talk the talk. It is great to have aspirations and dreams of being successful, but there has to be active input to make anything change. When difficulties arise, it can be easy for a lot of people to sit on the sidelines and watch others try to fix things. By being encouraged to actively partake in the problem solving, they are opening themselves up to new knowledge that will in return be invaluable when dealing with future problems that may arise.

Problem Solving

Again, another great way to be active. Problem solving is about stepping up even when it feels scary to do so. It may be a personal project with a stumbling block, or it may be a problem that requires team effort to fix. Either way, it needs solving before they can move onto the next step. Trying to find the fun in problem solving sounds like the two should not go hand in hand, however, you can think back to when you have completed a jigsaw puzzle or when you were a child and had to fit certain shaped blocks in matching shaped holes. Problem solving used to be fun and the reward felt great as it was an accomplishment. If mentors could encourage this outlook to solving a problem, it may even make it slightly easier to solve!

Being organised

This one has been mentioned before and that is because it is so important. What works for one person doesn’t necessarily work for the next person., By having organisation,  a mentee can provide the clarity that is needed to get to the next step. By giving themselves a structure and key milestones, it helps in the long run to deal with chaotic situations that may arise in the midst of it all. If everything else is organised around them then it makes the problem solving a lot easier.

Being Flexible – In the work environment, employees, mentees and mentors need to have some stretch in what they can do, when they can do it and how they can achieve it. Being rigid in this day and age will not work for success as so much changes all the time. With technological advancements every single year, businesses and successful business people have to be able to move with the times and be open to change. On a smaller scale, being flexible and adaptable can be as simple as changing scope in a project, or being able to move some things around to fit in a meeting. That kind of flexibility cannot be taken for granted and should be within confinements of what is possible. Stretching yourself shouldn’t mean spreading yourself too thin. Under-promise and over-deliver is a good way to look at it, then things can be changed in the structure of learning that will show both parties of a mentorship in a good light and make it an enjoyable experience.


A great mentor will always give hope to their mentee, even if things aren’t running as smoothly as they would like or maybe to the timescales they had in mind. From smaller businesses to large corporations, hope can be lost if money isn’t rolling in as fast as needed or if a career has become stagnant and stuck in a rut. But encouraging mentees to have hope and learn to assess what is going wrong can be a leading factor in the positivity of their success.

The psychology of mentoring is not an expectation of the mentor to be able to break down a mentee’s exact problems and learn how to solve them using a series of psychological tricks, but to encourage them to change their way of thinking and build a new structure for success. It is so important to take time out and analyse the situation, and perhaps realise that the stumbling block they need to get past is their own lack of faith in themselves and their abilities. These patterns and dimensions of resilience can be used to positively change anyone’s work life around with guidance from the right mentor.

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