Health Services Research & Development

Veterans Crisis Line Badge
Go to the ORD website
Go to the QUERI website

Managing Communication Challenges

Maintaining effective communication and giving constructive feedback are keys to establishing a good relationship with your mentor. Sometimes feedback can be difficult to accept, especially when you don't agree with what has been said. Here are some good practices on how to make sure you turn the feedback into actionable items that can help you to achieve your goals.

  • Listen attentively first and avoid immediately arguing or rejecting the feedback.
  • Provide relevant background information and explanation (not excuses).
  • Ask for clarification or specific examples if you need more information.
  • Be clear about what is being said and try to avoid jumping to conclusions.
  • Paraphrase the feedback to make sure you have understood the feedback before you respond to it.
    • Use phrases such as,
      • What I understood was _____________.
      • When I ____________ you think I _____________.
      • What I hear you say is if ____________ I will _______________.
    • Take the opportunity to check it with others and gain diverse perspectives.
    • Keep calm and state your case if you believe the feedback was not justified.
    • Ask for feedback if you are not receiving the feedback you need to help you achieve your goals.

    Problems and conflicts may arise through the course of a mentoring experience. Being able to recognize the signs of a problematic mentoring relationship can help you address the issues early on.

    You need to address your concerns with your mentor when you feel:

    • Needs are unmet.
    • Feelings of distress.
    • Frustration.
    • Diminishing expectations.
    • Lack of assimilating to the culture.
    • Repeated misunderstandings.
    • Lack of progress on set goals.
    • Repeatedly cancelled meetings/unprepared at meetings.

    The next step is to resolve these issues

    When you don't agree with your mentor:

    • Approach the situation with curiosity by asking questions about the advice.
    • For example, "My situation doesn't seem quite right for that idea. Can we talk about what doesn't fit and why?"

    When your mentor didn't show up and didn't call:

    • Approach your mentor with the goal of finding out information rather than blaming.

    • For example, "I had put on my calendar that we were meeting yesterday, did I get confused?"


    When it feels like your mentor is telling you what you should do:

    • Articulate up front that you are looking forward to having someone bounce ideas off of and help you solve problems.
    • For example, "I have a situation at work that I'd like to talk to you about. I have some ideas of how to approach it, and I'm hoping you can listen to my ideas and ask me questions to help me get to the right solution."

    When your mentor provides inadequate direction, either too much help or too little help:

    • Talk to peers or past CDAs to get a better picture of the extent of direction they are receiving.
    • Have an open discussion with your mentor about this.
    • For too much help, "Let me summarize what we've talked about. In my current situation, I think I should prioritize on _____________. What do you think?"
    • For too little help, "I am still not clear on __________, could you elaborate on that?" Or "I am working on __________, what advice could you give me on that?"

    When different mentors simultaneously want to make use of your time,

    • Ask them individually to help you prioritize your tasks.
    • For example, "I want to work on the things that we talked about last. But ________ has taken up a lot of my time. Can we talk about how to prioritize the things I need to work on?"

    When different mentors are giving you conflicting advice,

    • Speak to other colleagues to get their insights on the situation.
    • Use good judgment and talk to your mentor about your concerns.
    • Refer to "When you don't agree with your mentor".

    When you feel neglected by your mentor,

    • Maintain awareness of how busy your mentor is.
    • Set up a plan with your mentor beforehand on what to expect if you don't hear from them for a considerable amount of time.
    • For example, "I understand you are very busy. What's the best method to get ahold of you?"

    When the mentoring relationship is absolutely not working,

    • Communicate your concerns with your mentor and see if he/she is feeling the same way.
    • Ask yourself why this mentorship relationship is not working.
    • Consider solutions that might make this relationship work.
    • You may want to discontinue this mentoring relationship, for good reason.