Peer Co-Mentoring

Mentoring can be a potent tool for self-improvement and building friendships.

Posted Jul 06, 2019

Bruce Mars, Pexel, Public Domain
Source: Bruce Mars, Pexel, Public Domain

Whether it’s for yourself, your child, or anyone else you care about, peer co-mentoring is among the more potent (and free) ways to improve life.

In peer co-mentoring, two to eight people meet regularly in-person or virtually (phone/teleconference, Skype, Facetime, or Zoom) to listen, ask questions, and offer advice. Usually, the focus is on a problem a person is facing but sometimes, especially after a relationship among the members has developed, it might simply be to report on something good, bad, or just interesting that’s happened or is upcoming.

I've initiated and been a participant for years in a peer co-mentoring pair and in a group of eight. The following summarizes what I’ve learned.

Ground rules

These are the rules for both my peer co-mentoring pair and for my group of eight:

The Vegas Rule: What happens here, stays here.

Listen carefully.

Before giving advice, ask yourself if it’s wiser to ask a question. Maybe it’s to get more information about the problem, such as “Do you want to tell me what you’ve already tried or considered?” Or it could be a question to try to get the solution to come from the person, for example, “What would the wise person within you do or try?” That’s often more effective than giving advice because the person, having explained it, now may have come up with a solution, and they’re more likely to implement it because it was their idea. Also, the person knows him or herself better than you do and so their idea may take more into consideration than your suggestion would have.

If you’re feeling judgmental about a person’s idea or even about him or her overall, instead of expressing the judgment, try to come up with a question that would allow the person to self-assess, for example, “As you think about it, what do you believe the chances are of that idea working?” Or if it’s a broader judgment, “So, as you look at what you’ve done and not done this year, what letter grade, from A to F, might you give yourself and why?”

The broader corollary of the previous item is to be respectful. Of course, you can disagree but usually do it tactfully, perhaps with an inquisitive question rather than a diminishing statement. You may be tempted to blurt a visceral reaction, “That seems crazy:" but usually it's wise to have the restraint to say, “I’m having a hard time understanding why you’d do that. Can you help me out?”

Should the members of the pair or group be selected to be similar to or different from each other? The argument for creating a relatively homogeneous group (for example by age, sex, or career) is the increased likelihood of being able to relate to the others and to offer good advice. It also facilitates bonding. Occasionally though, those benefits are outweighed by those of heterogeneity. That’s usually when individuals’ thinking tends to be siloed and could benefit from unblinkered, fresh perspectives. For example, a researcher on the genetics of intelligence might feel s/he’s heard plenty from that small world of researchers and would benefit from inviting a broader range of neuroscientists and geneticists to the group.

If no one has a problem to discuss or news to report, you might try one of these:

  • You or other group member(s) give a two-minute talk on what the person is interested in. After, the other(s) can comment or ask a question.
  • Ask a question to be answered by everyone or just by volunteers from the group. Examples: “What do you like most and least about yourself?” “When was your happiest and saddest moment?” "What are you most looking forward to and what are you most afraid of?” Avoid questions that are more intellectual than personal, for example, about politics, sports, fashion, or entertainment. Those tend to distance rather than bring members closer together.


Consider 30 to 60 minutes, weekly, semi-weekly, or monthly. Longer than an hour tends to be too much of a time imposition, and meeting less frequently than monthly tends to dissipate the bond among the members, although after a while, the interval could extend even to quarterly.

You could schedule meetings at a fixed time, for example, the first Monday of each month at 7 PM. The main advantage of that is that it’s easier to remember, but that comes at the cost of flexibility. I prefer to, at the end of each meeting, agree on the day and time of the next meeting.

In my peer co-mentoring pair, we meet by phone for a half hour every other week, whereas my peer co-mentoring group meets monthly at 7 PM on a weekday by teleconference, the specific date agreed to at the end of each meeting.

The meetings begin with one to three minutes of unstructured small talk, both for bonding and to give just a bit of grace to someone who might be late.

Then, in my pair, my peer mentor always goes first and presents a problem, or he updates me on something. I then ask questions and/or offer tactful suggestions. After roughly half the session (15 minutes), we switch roles. There are times that he doesn't need the whole 15 minutes and so cedes the floor to me early.

In my eight-person group, the structure is the same except that it’s an hour long and I begin by asking, “Who would like to take the floor?” The person retains the floor until s/he decides to cede it by saying something such as, “Thank you. Now, who would like the floor?”

The takeaway

Whether it’s middle-school kids or retirees, high-school dropouts or the heavily degreed, peer co-mentoring offers the promise of problem-solving, friendship, and networking connections, all customized to your needs and all for free.

Might you want to start a peer co-mentoring pair or group? If so, invite the person(s) you most respect and who you think would do well in peer co-mentoring.

I read this aloud on YouTube.