The Difference Between Counselling, Coaching, Advising & Mentoring

The Difference Between Counselling, Coaching, Advising & Mentoring

The Difference Between Counselling, Coaching, Advising & Mentoring

With a new month starting I feel a little mischevious.

The wasps’ nest I think I will poke this month is that of counselling/coaching/mentoring/advising? What are they and how do they differ? Indeed is it important to understand that they do differ?

I come at this with a personal interest as I reposition myself (and what I offer) for what I hope will be an interesting few years as I transition gradually from “traditional” working practices towards retirement. Through almost 40 years of work, I appreciate the importance of clear communication and understanding between parties working together – most problems occur when there are different understandings/expectations. I was also trained in the scientific method that attempts to codify information and from a headmaster who frequently stated that “if you can’t write it down, you don’t understand it”.

Linkedin and indeed life, in general, is littered with books and people offering advice and coaching as well as counselling and mentoring, but what do they do? And does it differ? When I read posts and speak with individuals, the messages seem confused. In part, I think this is because one person can fill/act in more than one role, though not at the same time. Another large part is that I think many people warp definitions to suit their personal interests, emphasising their strengths/preferences and dropping the aspects they are less interested in.

I don’t plan to write a detailed analysis of each role, with pro’s and con’s, but rather to offer a framework that draws on what I have learnt and I think helps the reader position each activity.

The Difference Between Counselling, Coaching, Advising & Mentoring

As I said, one person may act in a number of these roles at different times, but rarely at the same time. The key is understanding which “hat” one has on in a specific exchange, e.g. “…..speaking as your coach, I propose …….”.

Personally, my professional offering is primarily as coach, mentor or in specific cases advisor. I am not trained as a counsellor, and while as a manager, I have successfully counselled staff I don’t generally promote myself as a counsellor.

I am certainly interested to hear what anyone else thinks about the framework, how they would improve it or indeed what alternative they would suggest?

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  • Matt Lowk

    Thanks for the explanation

  • Sarah Lewis

    You could insert some visuals/pictures in the framework to illustrate each role

  • Pauline Stewart

    Great content, so clear.

  • Simon Dale

    That was a really good post

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Ian J Sutherland 

Business Change Expert

Ian J Sutherland is a highly skilled director with expertise in governance, partnerships and regulation and almost four decades of experience serving as a powerful catalyst for change for organisations of all sizes and sectors. He thrives on identifying areas for innovation and improvement, forming effective strategies to drive efficiency and create bottom-line results. He has a proven capacity to serve as a bridge between organisations and functions, creating unity and operational coherence. A personable and creative leader, with a unique insight and the ability to see the big picture and provide constructive challenge, he writes on many matters including the delivery of change in today's world and is an opportunistic photographer who seeks to capture images that interest him. He enjoys good beer, good company and good music - not necessarily in that order.


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