Page Updated on February 8, 2023
A question I am often asked is what is the difference between coaching and mentoring so I thought I’d write a post on this below to explain exactly what the difference is. Furthermore, the terms ‘counselling’, ‘consulting’, and ‘training’ also get banded around. So let’s take a look below at the key differences between these terms.
The Four Quadrants
What do you think is the difference between coaching and mentoring?
To give you an idea of the main differences, I have designed a quadrant with four variables, in the diagram below.
Providing Answers vs Helping Others to Find Solutions
On top of the diagram, there are approaches that tend toward asking questions to help the person find their own answers. So on top, you see Counselling and Coaching. The emphasis of these two approaches is on helping you to find the answers.
On the bottom of the diagram, you will see ‘Tells – Gives you answers” and the approaches in this bottom section are Consulting and mentoring/training.
With consulting and mentoring, rather than helping the person by getting them to provide the answers themselves, you are actually providing them with answers yourself.
Past Problems vs Future Solutions
On the left of the diagram, there are approaches that start by analyzing problems to then, eventually, find a solution.
The focus here is more on the past, on what has happened so far to cause this problem.
On the right, there are approaches that start by thinking about what you want to achieve.
These approaches are solution-focused. The solutions may still need an assessment of the current situation, but that comes later.
The ultimate goal, what we need and want to achieve, is the starting point.
What Is Consulting?
In the bottom left quadrant, we have ‘consulting’.
This is most often used when a company has some issues they want to address, and they call an external expert to help them.
The expert looks at the situation, analyzes the problem and comes up with solutions for the company to adopt.
What Is Counselling?
In the top left quadrant of the main diagram, we find counselling.
This is an approach that normally is focused on individuals (although sometimes they can be couples or small groups of people, such as families) who need to overcome problems they have, but they are not sure what is causing them.
The counsellor asks questions to the person to help them uncover the root of the problem, to then start a process of healing or overcoming difficulties.
In the Coaching Skills course, we do not dwell further on the concepts of counselling and consulting, as they are beyond the scope of this training and of this post.
What Is Mentoring?
In the bottom right quadrant, we find mentoring.
Mentoring is solution-oriented because the person who seeks a mentor has a need that makes them seek the help of a mentor.
So, the mentee has identified a goal, something they want to achieve, for which they need to acquire knowledge.
As a result, they need a mentor who has that knowledge.
A mentor has the knowledge that the mentee needs, in that they have achieved the same goal that the mentee wants to achieve, or they have experienced the situation that the mentee wants to find out more about.
So, the mentor is giving the mentee information, s/he is giving the mentee answers.
By seeking a mentor, a mentee is looking for someone in whose footsteps they can follow.
What Is Training?
Training is located in the same quadrant as mentoring.
The person who wants to learn has identified a gap in their skills or knowledge, which they need to fill.
The trainer helps them acquire that knowledge.
The modern style of training indeed focuses more on asking trainees questions, rather than giving them answers straight away.
Trainers seek to engage the learner.
However, this has more to do with modern understandings of the way people learn best (i.e., through active engagement), rather than with the nature of what training does.
Ultimately, trainers enable people to learn skills or knowledge.
One of the differences between training and mentoring is that a trainer, unlike a mentor, does not need to have first-hand experience with what the trainee wants to learn. They just need some knowledge of it.
Another main difference is that, while training is limited to a few days, mentoring is a social experience that lasts longer. Mentoring is based on a relationship that can last for months or years.
What Is Coaching?
Last but not least, in the top right quadrant, we find coaching.
A coach does not give answers to a coachee, but they ask questions to help the coachee find the answers.
Also, the coaching process starts with identifying the desired outcome, to then finding ways to achieve it.
So, to sum up, a mentor or a trainer knows about the thing you want to learn.
A coach does not need to have any specific knowledge about the things you want to find out about.
Instead, a coach needs the ability to guide you towards discovering your own answers and realizing your potential.
Deciding When to Coach, Train, or Mentor Someone in the Workplace
When would you train an employee, when would you mentor them and when would you coach them?
When to Offer Training
- When acquiring new information – For example, if an employee needs to learn a new process for doing something, they will receive training.
- Learning how to do something – You would receive training to learn a specific skill, for example, how to use a piece of software.
- Getting up to speed – For example, if an employee is new to a company, they will need to learn how that company does certain things. Or, if an employee has been absent for a long time, they may need to be informed about new procedures that were adopted while they were away.
- Orienting – For new hires, orientation is a session that welcomes the employee into a company, and this can take the form of training.
Mentoring and When to Provide it
- When following in somebody’s footsteps – For example, if you want to change your career path or are seeking to be promoted, you may need mentoring from someone who is or has been doing the job that you would like to do.
- When Receiving step-by-step instructions – A mentor can give you specific instructions on how to achieve what you want to do. For example, if you want to apply for sponsorship, the mentor (who has done it before) will guide you through the application process.
- Getting advice – A mentor can give specific advice, as they have first-hand experience of what you would like to do or know about. The mentor does not always have to be older, more experienced or senior in terms of position than the mentee. For instance, an older employee might have more experience in a company but may lack knowledge about new technologies, which a younger employee might have. Or a manager might want to learn about the issues that a junior employee might face in the company.
- Succession planning – A company can assign a mentor to somebody they want to fast-track into a position. For example, imagine that a manager is going to retire and the company has already decided who will replace them. In this case, the person who is going to retire can act as a mentor for the person who will replace them.
- Onboarding – This is a series of events (which includes orientation) that helps new employees understand how to be successful in their new job and how to fit in. Assigning a mentor to the new employee can be part of onboarding.
When to Offer Coaching to Employees
Developing soft skills – Although you can get training on soft skills, this may not be enough.
Developing soft skills, such as resilience, emotional intelligence or problem-solving requires the person to feel and act differently.
As such, nobody can transfer these abilities to you. You need to develop them within you and only you can do that. Also, doing so requires time and you need to follow a gradual path of development.
If you want to become more assertive, for example, you do not become more assertive overnight, but you need to practice and gradually develop this skill.
Such a process of development can be hard to face on your own. A coach can support you along the way.
Handling challenges in a new way – Maybe you are facing challenges that are unique to your situation.
Or maybe these are the same challenges that other people faced, but you need to find an innovative way to tackle them.
In this case, a coach can help you come up with answers.
Improving performance – Coaching is useful when you want to improve your employees’ performance because it helps evaluate and address their developmental needs.
Coaching makes people feel in charge of their own development. As employees take ownership of their development needs, they feel more motivated to improve.
Monitoring staff’s ongoing personal development – Even when there are no issues related to an employee’s performance, it is important for staff to feel that they can still develop professionally and be challenged enough.
So, high-performing employees can be kept engaged by coaching them.
Dr Valeria (Lo Iacono) Symonds
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