The Critical Art of Reflection

Reflection is a critical part of the process for mentoring pairs and for people who manage mentoring programs. A skilled mentor offers the mentee a quiet space in which to reflect on issues, on self, on interactions with others, and on systemic issues at play.

As mentors become more experienced, they develop the ability to critically reflect on their own practice and further develop their skills. Reflection can be done alone, or with the help of a supervisor – a highly skilled person who acts as a “mentor’s mentor”. According to Merrick & Stokes[1] the reflective mentor (as opposed to a novice or developing mentor) uses reflection to improve and also starts to employ different mentoring approaches, drawing on other mentors and supervisors.

The reflexive mentor not only critically reflects after mentoring conversations but has the ability to detect and use their own feelings and thoughts in the moment, whilst in a mentoring conversation. This requires a high level of presence and mindfulness. Really masterful mentors can unconsciously pick up on finely nuanced signals from the mentee – reflection in the moment allows those signals to be brought into the conversation and explored.

One helpful habit I’ve developed is to make notes after a mentoring conversation about key points of discussion, to which I add some personal reflection, answering these questions:

  • What came up in the meeting with my mentee that was of consequence?
  • What are my thoughts, insights and reflections about what we discussed.
  • What are my thoughts, insights or reflections about our mentoring relationship?
  • What ideas do I want to raise in the next meeting?

Professor David Clutterbuck offers these further ideas for mentor reflection after a conversation:

  • What questions and comments worked well in helping the mentee’s thinking or building their motivation? What didn’t? Is there a pattern here?
  • How did this session compare with my ideal of myself as a mentor?
  • What do I think the mentee gained from the session?
  • How well did I:
    • Build and maintain rapport?
    • Challenge the mentee’s thinking?
    • Stick to the mentee’s agenda?
    • Exercise my duty of care?

Other useful tools for reflection include models such as Gibbs’ Reflective Cycle which provide a framework mentors can use for self-reflection or to assist  their mentees with their reflection.


© Melissa Richardson, 2020

[1] Merrick, L and Stokes, P. (2003). Mentor Development & Supervision: “A Passionate Joint Enquiry”, The International Journal of Mentoring and Coaching

Volume I Issue 1, 09/2003




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