What Socrates can teach us about mentoring


mentorDid you ever read about the Socratic Method in college? If you did, you may remember that it centers on the importance of asking questions. According to venture capitalist Brad Feld, a co-founder of Techstars, the Socratic Method is fundamental to mentorship.

“It’s how you ask questions, what you try to accomplish with the questions, and what your responses to the answers are,” Feld says, according to Jessica Stillman writing for Inc.com.

Feld offers five tips from Socrates that can help you be a better mentor.

Talk to your mentee like a peer. Avoid talking down to your mentee. “Your goal should be to create a peer relationship, where the mentee learns from the mentor and the mentor learns from the mentee,” Feld suggests. “As a result, tone matters. A lot.”

Acknowledge what you don’t know. “If you—as the mentor—don’t understand something, ask a question. You don’t have to show the mentee that you are smarter than her. You don’t have to establish your credibility—you already have it,” Feld says.

Ask questions to support discovery. “Use your questions to guide the discussion, presumably toward testing hypotheses you might be developing in real time. Be explicit about these hypotheses as you are testing them, and try to show your thought process through the questioning. This can be subtle, where you just guide things along, or it can be explicit, where you state your hypothesis and then start asking questions,” Feld writes.

Ask “Why?” If a mentee answers one of your questions with an answer that you weren’t looking for, ask “Why?” “When a person hasn’t thought deeply about the answer to a question or hears a question for the first time, the response often doesn’t really address the question. When this happens, just ask, ‘Why?'” Feld suggests.

Aim for More Questions. “The goal is not to end up with the definitive answer to the questions. Rather, you are trying to use the questions to set up a new set of hypotheses to go test. You are at the beginning of a long arc of inquisition,” Feld concludes.

See the full article at Inc.com.

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