At one point or another, everyone needs a little help from another person. There are many kinds of helping relationships one can enter into depending on what you need. Two common types of these kinds of relationships are encapsulated in words you likely hear thrown around a lot: “Coaching” and “Mentoring.” While they may be used interchangeably by some, each is a unique tool for specific circumstances. Understanding how these differ can be valuable in determining who you’d like to reach out to the next time you need a little help.

Defining “coach” and “mentor”

The International Coach Federation, the largest certifying body for coaches, defines coaching as, “partnering with clients in a thought-provoking and creative process that inspires them to maximize their personal and professional potential.” That’s a mouthful, but the main point is that it’s a partnership and a process meant to inspire the client toward action.

Mentoring, on the other hand, is defined by Merriam-Webster as the act of being, “a trusted counselor or guide.”

The difference lies in the location of the enlightenment

Because a mentor’s job is to guide someone else, they are the one with the knowledge imparting it to the person who’d like to be enlightened by it. When one joins a profession, they often hope to partner with a mentor to learn the ropes. For example, a young physician might look for a mentor in a seasoned physician. With that extra experience in their shared discipline, the mentor would be able to answer questions and give useful information and insight on what to expect in the mentee’s coming years.

A coach is skilled in coaching practices such as listening deeply, asking powerful questions, and sharing reflections. These practices are designed to pull out the client’s own insights and wisdom. To be effective, a coach does not need to have experience in all disciplines, and may not have a background in yours. Because the client is the expert in their life and work, the enlightenment in a coaching relationship comes from within the client.

Other differences between coaching and mentoring

As you may have realized, a big difference between the two is the direction of the flow of questions and information. In mentoring, the mentee will ask questions of the mentor who will then share their knowledge and wisdom. In coaching, the coach will ask questions of the client to tap into the client’s wisdom and inspiration. This difference, in who asks the questions, changes the dynamic of each relationship when practiced.

Here are some other ways these two types of helping relationships differ:

  • Mentorships can last for many years. Focused coaching—around a single goal or issue—can be shorter-term (3-6 months). However, coaching relationships can also be broader and be longer-term. There are many factors that determine the length of engagement such as the type of goal, the frequency of meeting, the preference in ways of working, and financial resources available.
  • Coaching is typically completed on a regular schedule to ensure forward progress. This includes both regular meetings and ad-hoc check-ins between meetings as needed. Mentors often have intermittent and irregularly scheduled meetings that are driven by the frequency of questions the mentee raises as well as the mentor’s time limitations.
  • Coaches can help with a wide range of topics; mentors tend to go in-depth on only their area of expertise.

Coaching through Prism and Coach Carol

Coaching benefits those who are ready to do the work of self-examination to move forward in their lives. These people often find their answers and undiscovered potential already present but need it to be drawn out by a trained professional. Coach Carol is a trained professional experienced in doing exactly that. If you believe you could benefit from a coaching relationship, reach out to Coach Carol using the Prism Coaching and Consulting contact page.