Strategies for dealing with specific problems

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In this section we look at some types of problems that you might encounter in a mentoring relationship 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 in the situation.

1. Issue: You feel your mentor is not providing enough guidance or direction.

Strategy: If you feel your mentor is not providing enough guidance, you should raise the issue with your mentor, being as specific as you can about what you need.
Mentor and mentee working together

2. Issue: Your mentor has asked you to do personal favours and, as a result, you feel that your mentor is taking advantage of you.

Strategy: If you believe the mentor is taking advantage of you, you can consider raising the issue with your mentor. If you think the behaviour is not intentional, this strategy may work and may even help strengthen your relationship, allowing you to re-establish boundaries. Another option would be to seek a neutral third party to meet with you and your mentor and help mediate the situation.

3. Issue: You disagree with your mentor’s advice and you don’t know what to do.

Strategy: First, make sure you understand the advice. Ask questions and seek clarification. If, after further consideration, you still disagree with the advice you should explain to your mentor why you have chosen not to follow the suggestion and what you have decided to do instead. Your mentor may disagree, but he or she should respect your choice and reasoned decision.

4. Issue: You feel your mentor’s commitment to the relationship has decreased.

Strategy: Discuss the matter with your mentor to determine whether your perception is valid and to find out if there is a reason your mentor’s commitment has decreased. A variety of factors could be at play: perhaps the mentor is just busy with other things and has not had time to devote to the relationship. Perhaps the mentor is feeling that you are not following through on your commitment. Through the discussion you should decide for yourself whether you think the mentor is willing to recommit or whether it is in both of your interests to end the relationship.

5. Issue: After working with your mentor 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 mentor. Chances are your mentor feels the same way and he or she will appreciate your candor. If neither of you feel you can change your behaviour, it may be best to agree to discontinue the mentorship.

6. Issue: Your mentor has told someone in your company confidential information about you. What should you do?

Strategy: Confidentiality is central to a mentoring relationship. A breach of confidentiality by either party will erode trust. If, during the course of the relationship, either party feels it necessary to breach confidentiality, they should seek permission from the other person before doing so. Here, your mentor did not ask your permission in advance. You should discuss the matter with your mentor and decide whether you can repair the bond of trust. If you decide to continue the relationship you should both recommit to uphold 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.

7. Issue: You and your mentor work at the same place and your mentor has asked you to take on some extra work. As a result, you feel that your mentor is taking advantage of you.

Strategy: If you believe the mentor is taking advantage of you, you can consider raising the issue with your mentor. But, if you have concerns that doing so might jeopardize your position or your working relationship, it may be best to raise the matter with a neutral third party, for example, someone in human resources. That third party can advise you and there may be set procedures in place to deal with such situations.