Feedback as the Driver of Successful Mentoring Relationships

Topic: Mentoring
Publication: Journal of Vocational Behavior
Article: Protégé anxiety attachment and feedback in mentoring relationships (APR 2010)
Author: T. D. Allen, K. M. Shockley, L. Poteat
Reviewed by: Sarah Teague


Many organizations have systems in place to help new hires transition smoothly into the workplace. This process is called socialization. One technique that has garnered increased attention and proven successful is mentoring. This process partners new hires (protégés) with experienced employees (mentors) who guide them through their transition to becoming full contributors to the organization.

A recent study by Allen, Shockley, and Poteat (2010) sought to investigate the feedback process in mentor-protégé relationships and the impact that feedback has on performance; particularly with regard to individuals exhibiting anxious attachment styles. Anxious attachment is one dimension used to describe bonds formed by (Brennan, Clark, & Shaver, 1998) in which individuals are “preoccupied with thoughts about relationships and the need for approval” (Allen, Shockly, & Poteat, 2010, p. 74). These individuals typically have a more negative view of themselves and desire to protect themselves from failure and rejection.

Results show that protégés exhibiting anxious attachment engaged in less feedback seeking and were less likely to accept the feedback offered to them by mentors. Additionally, protégé feedback acceptance was linked to more frequent (and better quality) feedback from the mentor.

Finally, higher frequencies (though not quality) of feedback provided by mentors resulted in higher protégé productivity.

What it boils down to is this: Feedback is hugely important in mentor-protégé relationships in terms of both protégé development and organizational bottom-line and cannot be overstated to either party before or during the process. Other studies have addressed this issue over the years, but none to date have made the connection between feedback and performance (as opposed to the more typical outcome of job satisfaction). Results also suggest that organizations implementing mentoring programs need to be attentive to individual differences that may impact feedback-seeking and encourage mentors to work through this with their protégés as part of the experience.

Allen,T. D., Shockley, K. M., & Poteat, L. (2010). Protégé anxiety attachment and
feedback in mentoring relationships. Journal of Vocational Behavior, 77, 73-80.