Mentoring and being mentored, at STC Summit

This week I’m attending STC Summit 2019, the annual conference of the Society for Technical Communication (STC). I’m blogging my notes from the sessions that I attend. Thanks and all credit go to the speakers. Any mistakes are my own.

As a senior technical writer, mentoring and being mentored are much on my mind. Carrie Sheaffer and Eva Miranda presented a session titled, Be the Best You Can Be: Mentoring and Being Mentored.

As an introduction, Eva talked about her positive experiences with her mentor at uni, and how she strives for a growth mindset. Carrie talked about the moment when she realised that she was now a senior tech writer, and thus the one people looked to for advice. It was scary and wonderful and empowering.

Eva and Carrie met through STC, then started work at the same organisation, and kind of fell into an informal mentoring relationship. Instead of an informal mentorship, they recommend a more formal approach in which you define and measure your goals.

There are many types of mentorship, including:

  • Peer to peer
  • Speed
  • Traditional
  • Group
  • Network
  • And more

Perhaps you’re already mentoring someone…

… but don’t know it. If you’re helping a junior team member and advocating for them, then you’re already mentoring them.

You can be a mentor without being a manager. The mentor gives advice, whereas the manager gives rules.  Mentors are interested in your growth, while managers are responsible for your performance.

Defining your goals as mentee and mentor

A mentee (person being mentored) has certain goals, such as job satisfaction, opportunities to look out for, career advice and leadership opportunities.

The mentor also needs to know what they will get out of the relationship, even if it’s a little less tangible. Examples of their goals are to get a skilled team member and increase the performance of the team. Many mentors also gain satisfaction from giving back and sharing skills.

At the start of the mentoring relationship, the mentor and mentee should sit down and establish their goals. They should also review their goals and the achievement of the goals at regular intervals. The relationship should be reciprocal.

The mentoring relationship

Another good idea is to get to know each other. See if there are any shared interests, hobbies, or activities.

Be positive and open, and be sure to praise effort as well as skill. Make connections at the workplace, hold regular one on ones, and work together on the relationship.

Schedule fun outings, and aim for levity.


Carrie promised that feedback doesn’t need to be scary (even though it actually is!).

Some tips:

  • Distinguish between something that is a personal style preference versus a rule. For example, the mentor may have a preference, or the rule may come from a style guide. The mentee can choose to follow the former, but has no choice about the latter.
  • Talk about a piece of writing, rather than just asking them to rewrite it. Sometimes the talking through the topic is so much better than what was written, and the mentor doesn’t need to do any more.
  • Make suggestions, like “what do you think about trying…”
  • If you see a repeated pattern, don’t comment on every single occurrence. Just mention it once or twice, and say there are more occurrences.

Remember that the goal is for the mentee to grow, not to show what’s wrong. The mentee is thankful when the mentor takes time to explain the reason for feedback on a doc, rather than just enter the correction.

A tip for the mentee: Don’t freak out!

Feedback should go in both directions. The mentee should review the mentor’s work as well as vice versa. The mentee has something to contribute, and the mentor makes mistakes. The mentee can ask something like, “I noticed you did this, can you explain why?”

The mentee can learn as much from giving feedback as well as from receiving it.

When there are disagreements

What do you do when you have disagreements about the way to do something, and you can’t resolve the disagreement?

Get other opinions. Remember there are different viable ways of doing things. Make the discussions constructive, and don’t become emotionally invested in a solution.

Remember: The goal is to improve.  When you have a product that is better, everyone wins.

The mentor must own their growth

The mentor can’t tell the mentee how to grow. The mentee defines their goals and the direction they want to go in. Then they identify the help they need, and discuss that with the mentor.

Ask for help when you get stuck. (Eva and Carrie showed us a haiku that they wrote to illustrate this section. It was fun.) Especially if there’s a deadline, ask for help directly.

If you’re working on something in a certain direction, and you think there’s a better way to do it, speak up.

The problems

There can be problems in a mentoring relationship. Mentoring is hard, and it’s no fun if the relationship is not working. Maybe you just don’t get along, or maybe the mentor is just not good at mentoring or good at their job. Perhaps the mentee is not progressing.

There are some options:

  • When you’re reviewing your goals, suggest a change or suggest ending the mentorship.
  • Suggest that the mentor moves to a different role.

When the mentee advances to a new level

On the positive side, any perceived problems in the mentoring relationship could be because the mentee has advanced so far that they no longer need the same level of mentorship. An approach is to address this when reviewing your shared goals. Perhaps the mentor needs to change their mentoring methods and the mentee needs to change their goals.

The mentor can start giving the mentee more advanced projects, and reducing the amount of detailed, low-level feedback.

In conclusion

Thank you Eva and Carrie for a lively and thoughtful look and the mentoring relationship.

About Sarah Maddox

Technical writer, author and blogger in Sydney

Posted on 7 May 2019, in STC, technical writing and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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