As with any relationship, from time to time, mentoring partnerships can snag, stagnate, or outright stall. Changes in schedule, workload, or circumstances can make it difficult to connect. Or partners may find that they underestimated what would be required as a mentor or a mentee and feel overwhelmed. Other times, pairs find that their personalities or communication styles just don’t seem to mesh.
Whatever the reason, most partnerships can course-correct if both parties are willing to work together. Below are some simple steps that can help a struggling partnership get back on track.
Look in the mirror. Before you give up on your partner or call them out for what you think they could do better, pause to reflect on how you have shown up in the relationship. Are you proactive and engaged? Are you open and candid, and do you clearly communicate your needs and expectations? Just as important, are those expectations realistic? Unrealistic expectations on either side of a partnership can be detrimental. For mentors, unrealistic expectations can lead to overloading the mentee with suggestions and information, pushing them to take on more than they can realistically manage, or pressuring them to make decisions the mentor thinks are best. Likewise, a mentee who expects the mentor to steer the mentoring experience or provide more support than is reasonable can also hinder the relationship. And perhaps the most unrealistic expectation of all for either partner is assuming that the other half of their mentoring pair would (or should) sense they are unhappy and understand why.
Acknowledge the issues openly. For most pairs, the mentoring experience can easily and effectively be “fixed” simply by addressing the issue. If there is something your partner is or isn’t doing that is frustrating you, the most important thing you can do is talk to them about it. They may have no idea that something is amiss, or if they do, they may not be able to pinpoint the problem. Either way, if you don’t clearly communicate what you would like to change, your partner will not have the opportunity to correct it and you will likely continue to feel frustrated or, worse, resentful. While the thought of having such a conversation with your partner might seem intimidating, take a step back and look at it as a chance to practice engaging in a difficult conversation. If nothing else, carefully plan out what you would like to say, including specific examples of what you would like to change and ideas for a way forward. Schedule a time to speak (not e-mail) with your partner when you will have adequate time, energy, and attention to fully discuss the matter.
Go back to the Mentoring Agreement. A great place to start in recalibrating the way you and your partner work together is the Mentoring Agreement, which documents the goals and expectations that you set at the beginning of your partnership. Identify areas you can adjust or revise if the initial plan is not meeting your needs. Revisit the mentee’s stated goals, needs, and aspirations. Identify what progress has been made, and list out clear, actionable steps that each party can take to push further toward those goals. For example, if the mentee hoped to increase their network, the mentor might share a list of potential situational mentors the mentee could reach out to, invite the mentee to attend a business meeting, or share details for networking events in the area that the mentee might find useful. Meanwhile, the mentee could ask the mentor to help them plan and/or practice what they would say in an interview meeting, facilitate an introduction with a potential situational mentor, or read and discuss a book on networking as part of their mentoring activities. Outlining steps that each partner can take and ensuring that these steps are specific, clear, and achievable could plot the roadmap for partnership success.
Revisit the DISC assessment. While you are revisiting documents, set aside time to refresh on the DISC assessment results you each received at the beginning of the program. Even if you get along great, brushing up on each other’s DISC styles can be a helpful reminder of how your partner functions at their best and in times of stress and how best and most effectively to communicate with them.
Check in and reevaluate. Once you’ve had that initial difficult conversation to identify the issues you would like to address, be intentional about checking in with your partner to gauge whether the adjustments you’ve made have been effective for both parties and make additional tweaks as necessary.
Reach out to the Mentoring Program Coordinator. Sometimes, partners may need some outside assistance to get back on track, and in rare instances, it may be clear to both parties that their partnership will not work out for reasons such as a lack of commitment from one of the partners, serious personality conflicts, or a breach of trust or confidentiality. In such instances, one or both partners should reach out to the Mentoring Program Coordinator to either seek their assistance in helping the pair reconnect or, if there is no hope that the match can work, determine the best course of action for both partners.