New insights into mentor-mentee communication patterns within the context of relationship quality

Dutton, H., Deane, K. L., & Overall, N. C. (2023). Using observational dyadic methods in youth mentoring research: Preliminary evidence of the role of actors’ and partners’ self-disclosure in predicting relationship quality. Journal of Youth and Adolescence52, 1157–1169.

Summarized by Ariel Ervin 

Notes of Interest:

  • Self-disclosure is an excellent communication tool for developing relationships.
  • Although self-disclosure contributes to relationship quality, there is a lack of research that examines this subject within the context of youth mentoring.
  • This study utilized behavioral observations of youth mentorships to evaluate whether self-disclosure can have different effects on relationship quality depending on who is disclosing and how.
  • More intimate mentor disclosures (e.g., discussing emotions or family relationships) correlated with higher mentee relationship quality.
  • However, high levels of non-intimate mentor disclosures correlated with lower ratings of relationship quality by mentees.
    • Excessive non-intimate information can make mentees feel like they are less active participants in the relationship and provides fewer perceived opportunities for strengthening a sense of closeness.
  • Findings suggest that intimate mentor disclosures can help mentees gauge how their mentors think about them and how committed their mentors are to the relationship.
  • Mentors who avoid making disclosures can make their mentees think that they don’t want to have a genuine relationship with them.
  • Having mentees that genuinely want to open up has a positive influence on mentor-perceived relationship quality.
  • Mentor disclosure should be meaningful and promote youth empowerment, mentee openness, and empathy. In other words, mentors need to ensure that the information they are disclosing to their mentees is beneficial to the relationship and isn’t burdening their mentees.
  • Ongoing training and supervision are essential in assisting mentors in attuning to their mentees and making appropriate disclosures.

Introduction (Reprinted from the Abstract)

Self-disclosure builds high quality relationships, but knowledge of self-disclosure in youth mentoring relationships is limited by a lack of research and reliance on self-reports. To demonstrate the value of observational methods and dyadic modeling of mentoring communication processes, this study examined the associations between behavioral observation of self-disclosure and self-reported relationship quality in 49 mentee-mentor dyads (mentees: 73.5% female; x̄ age = 16.2, range = 12–19; mentors: 69.4% female; x̄ age = 36.2, range = 19–59). Video-recorded observations of disclosure were coded on three dimensions: amount (number of topics and detail of disclosure), intimacy (disclosure of personal or sensitive information), and openness (willingness to disclose). More intimate mentor disclosure was associated with higher mentee relationship quality, whereas higher amount of mentor disclosure combined with low intimacy was associated with lower mentee relationship quality. Greater mentee openness correlated with higher mentor relationship quality, but more intimate mentee disclosures were associated with lower mentee relationship quality. These preliminary findings illustrate the potential of methods that enable in-depth investigation of dyadic processes to advance understanding of how behavioral processes may influence mentoring relationships.

Implications (Reprinted from the Discussion)

In a relationship-based field like youth mentoring, examining relational processes is essential to advancing research and practice that ultimately supports mentors and mentees to develop and sustain quality relationships (Varga & Deutsch, 2016). However, a reliance on retrospective self-report methods that are not suited to capture the dyadic, multidimensional, and dynamic nature of interpersonal communication has stifled emerging knowledge in this area (Pryce et al., 2021). This study offers an illustrative example of how behavioral observation and dyadic modeling can provide new insights into the mentor-mentee communication patterns that are associated with higher versus lower quality mentoring relationships. These methods provided a direct view of mentor-mentee disclosure interactions minimizing self-report biases and method variance and enabled assessment of how both mentors’ and mentees’ disclosure was associated with each other’s relationship quality. Behavioral observation also allowed objective, standardized measurement of different disclosure dimensions that are theorized to have differential effects. Theoretical and empirical work on self-disclosure suggests that disclosure in mentor-mentee dyads might operate in both similar and different ways to other types of close relationships. The current study was particularly concerned with understanding how the effects of self-disclosure might manifest differently depending on whether it is the mentors or the mentees who are disclosing (see Fig. 1). Analysis of these data in combination with mentor and mentee self-report measures of relationship quality using APIM revealed novel, though preliminary, insights about the dynamic effects of disclosure within a dyadic youth mentoring context.

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