What is the difference between a coach, mentor and facilitator?

In a world where information is ubiquitous, there is an increased importance on the role of a mentor, coach, facilitator or guru (plus many other possible labels!). When experiential knowledge is becoming more crucial in the workplace and in the community in general, how do you draw the knowledge out of an experience so that it is useable?

Many people are a little bit unsure what the difference is between these roles and so am I, quite honestly. This is an attempt to explore the difference between them from my experience of being in these different shoes and navigating the space for my own guidance also.

(What I’m sharing is based entirely on my own experience in navigating the space and operating as a coach, mentor and facilitator to many people personally.)

I see there being two components to each of these relationships:

  1. The ‘experience dynamic.’
    This is looking at what level of experience in any given field is each person in the relationship coming from. Does one person have more experience in the field than the other?
  2. The ‘knowledge exchange dynamic.’
    This is looking at how the knowledge is come to within the relationship. Is there one person teaching the other or is it a mutual partnership?
Visual of dynamics of each relationship.

Mentoring Relationships

I have had multiple mentors for separate purposes since I was 13. These were people that had extensive experience in something that I was pursuing or were in a position I wanted to be in. They had knowledge directly relative to where I am and want to be that they could share.

In my experience, ‘mentors’ had advice, tips and tricks that could be shared in a specific realm that meant I could learn from their mistakes and successes. This was more industry knowledge and knowledge directly relative to the ‘how to’ of something I was pursuing.

Experience Dynamic = More than me
Exchange Dynamic = Giving knowledge and advice

Coaching Relationships

A coach in my experience is someone that whether they have been where you are going or not, they’re able to identify patterns, work with human behaviour and guide you to your own conclusions for your own scenario.

They more so guide you through the process to have you come to your own understandings and knowledge. These people do have slight experience in your domain (whether it be business, media, the arts, etc) so that they are able to relate on a certain level.

They really do believe that you have the answers within you and so prefer not to give you the answers but have you come up with them yourself.

Experience Dynamic = Slight experience necessary
Exchange Dynamic
= Balance of realised and given knowledge

Facilitator Relationships

This is the role I prefer to play with most of my clients at the moment. This is someone that really believes in ‘empowered learning.’ Someone that believes that their client truly does have the answers within them as well as the ability to find their own answers. “Teach a man (or woman) to fish” analogy!

Not only does a facilitator guide their ‘partner’ to come to their own realizations, they do it in such a way that their ‘partner’ is now fully empowered to take themselves through that journey by themselves. The role of a facilitator is almost silent and not dependable. Very often growth or transformation occurs and it feels like the facilitator was simply sitting in the room :p

As a facilitator’s role is really about creating a safe space and then allowing the ‘partner’ to dive in to uncover what is really there, they do not need wisdom or knowledge in the area of focus. They simply know human behaviour, emotional intelligence and space creation incredibly well.

Experience Dynamic = None necessary
Exchange Dynamic = Realised knowledge

This has been my experience of the difference between these relationships that I hope may help navigate your search for the right support in your growth journey. Being clear on what and who you are seeking is super important in finding the right person.


Connect with a global community of driven creatives and impact-leaders also asking the same question, “how can I really grow personally so that I can grow my work in the world?” www.realiseflow.com

Like what you read? Give Al Jeffery a round of applause.

From a quick cheer to a standing ovation, clap to show how much you enjoyed this story.