No doubt you’ll have heard words like ‘coaching’, ‘mentoring’ and ‘buddying’ thrown around, and often wondered what is the real difference and just as importantly, can anyone be one?

Let’s start with coaching, a popular buzz word at the moment. The idea behind coaching is that the basic skill is encouraging others to find the answers themselves, rather than just giving them answer. It’s a powerful tool, and the good thing is you can master the basic skills. Whilst you might expect your manager to be an expert at your job, a coach doesn’t necessarily need to be as experienced as their subject. For example.. Lewis Hamilton will have a coach, but they can’t drive as fast as him. What they can do is offer an approach – usually based on questions – which will allow the him to analyse and improve his own performance.

Most parents will have some experience in coaching their children, without realising it. The coaching spectrum can range from the almost non-participative – watching from the side lines, with the odd word of encouragement – to the more directive, where the skill is pushing someone beyond their comfort zone. The essential tools in the coaching kitbag revolve around asking effective questions, planting subtle suggestions and sharing stories, without overtly instructing; it’s not as easy as it sounds.

But don’t think coaching is a universal panacea. Coaching works best with those who have some degree of knowledge; Hamilton probably tells his coaches what he wants to work on; someone new to a task or a role may require a far more directive approach, which isn’t the same as coaching…. that’s managing.

Mentoring is often used in the same breath as coaching, but there are differences. In mythology, Mentor was a wise old man, offering support to the young. Mentors will often take a more holistic and strategic view, and offer guidance on areas such as career and personal development. Interestingly, there has been a trend of late for reverse mentoring, when senior business people will seek guidance from Millennials on issues such as social media, so it’s not the domain of the Silver surfers to be mentors.

The main accepted differences between coaching and mentoring is the latter is often more informal and, unlike a coach, will actually have first-hand experience of the area being developed

And then there’s ‘buddying.’ As the name conveys, buddies are often peers, and of an age and position where they are able to relate but aren’t seen as “the boss”. In our world of event apprentices, we often find there is far greater progress if a company takes two apprentices, who can support each other through the programme. Alternatively, we’ve found a successful buddy can be a recent apprentice, taking on an almost ‘older sibling’ role with a new apprentice. This role enables those often thought of ‘stupid questions’ to be asked in a safe environment without being judged.

Have a think about your organisation. Are these words being used appropriately, or is it time for a rethink?