Strategies for dealing with specific problems

In this section we look at some specific issues you may come across as a mentor and some strategies for dealing with them. Keep in mind that the strategies discussed here are only suggestions – whatever approach you take you must be comfortable with.

1. Issue: Your mentee does not follow your advice.

Strategy: It’s not unusual – or necessarily bad – when a mentee does not follow a mentor’s advice, whatever the advice is. In such situations, however, it’s appropriate to ask the mentee why he or she did not follow the advice, or better yet, ask the mentee to explain what led to the decision. No matter whether you agree with the decision or rationale, you should respect your mentee’s decision and their ownership of it.

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2. Issue: Your mentee does not follow through on what they said they would do.

Strategy: First, it’s important to note that a mentee not following through on an action or commitment he or she made to you is very different from the mentee not following your advice. (That’s described above.) The issue of a mentee not following through can be seen as the mentee not holding up his or her end of a deal. You should raise this issue with your mentee and be as specific as you can in pointing out where he or she is falling short. You should explore why the mentee is not following through, as there could be an underlying issue that you might be able to help with to get the mentee back on track. If, after discussing it with your mentee, you feel that he or she will not be able to – or is not willing to – change his or her behaviour, you may want to discuss terminating the relationship on the grounds that continuing would be unproductive.

3. Issue: Your mentee breaks appointments at the last minute.

Strategy: When a mentee breaks appointments frequently or at the last minute, this can cause frustration and disruption of your schedule. You should raise the issue with your mentee. You can remind him or her of your agreement regarding keeping appointments and you can also point out how such behaviour reflects on the mentee professionally. In this discussion you should also ask the mentee to reflect on what the underlying cause of such behaviour is and then strategize with the mentee to help him or her change their behaviour. For example, it could be poor time management skills or issues related to work/life balance, both of which are the kind of thing you might be able to help them with.

4. Issue: After working with your mentee for a while, you feel that there is a fundamental mismatch. (For example, you have personality conflicts or different work ethics.)

Strategy: Mismatches happen. Explain your discomfort to your mentee. Chances are your mentee feels the same way and he or she will appreciate your candor. If neither of you feel you can change your behaviour, it’s best to discontinue the mentorship. 

5. Issue: You believe that your mentee has breached your confidentiality agreement.

Strategy: Confidentiality is central to a mentoring relationship. A breach of confidentiality by either party will erode trust. If the breach has already happened, you should discuss it and decide whether you can repair the bond of trust. If you decide to continue the relationship you should both recommit to upholding the confidentiality and to taking steps to avoid future breaches. If you do not feel trust can be re-established, you should end the relationship.

6. Issue: You feel your mentee’s behaviour is reflecting poorly on you.

Strategy: If you are feeling this, you should raise the issue with your mentee. Before you do, however, it is important to carefully assess your grounds for this feeling, as you should be able to explain your concern to your mentee. In honestly examining the grounds for your feeling, you may find that your concerns are unjustified or are masking some other discomfort you are feeling with the relationship. If, after discussing it, you don’t feel your mentee understands or is not willing to or capable of changing the behaviour, it’s best to discontinue the mentorship.

7. Issue: You feel your mentee is not making progress.

Strategy: If, after a reasonable period, you feel your mentee is not making progress, you should raise the issue with him or her. In discussing the matter, you should aim to help your mentee figure out what is preventing him or her from making progress. As part of the discussion you may help your mentee re-formulate his or her goals, perhaps helping establish intermediate goals.