Because the word "mentoring" has been around for some time, most people feel they understand what's involved when engaging in this kind of relationship. That's the first assumption that is incorrect and if we continue to assume, the relationship is off to a rocky start. So here are a few basic things to negotiate when you first meet as a pair:
- Discuss your expectations of each other. As a mentor, don't assume that you already know who they are or that you already know how you will be helpful. Having an exploratory conversation about expectations will reveal your mentoree's expectations. If you're a mentoree, don't assume that your mentor knows exactly what to do to be helpful. S/he needs your input before coming to any conclusions.
- Negotiate frequency of contact and type of contact. This means determining whether you'll meet every other week for an hour or every three weeks for 2 hours or once a month for 2 hours, etc. It also should include a discussion on other forms of meeting, such as phone conversations as well as email frequency.
- Determine a focus. What will you focus on when you meet? Will it be on leadership, project management, work-life balance, etc? Will there be any prep work expected on either party's part?
- Discuss how to give each other feedback that may be hard to share. In any relationship, there will be moments when something isn't working and it's always difficult to let the other person know when this happens. By negotiating in advance how to do this, it makes it easier to provide this feedback when it occurs. I always like beginning by saying something to my partner like: "I'd like to utilize the process we've agreed to on sharing some feedback that is hard for me to provide." This alerts the mentor that we are now engaging in this specific process that s/he agreed to.
These points need not take a great deal of time to negotiate and they will provide you with enough framework needed to have an effective relationship. By skipping this discussion, you run the risk of being derailed at some point in your relationship by an assumption not shared by the other party. Whenever you feel the relationship is not going well, 99% of the time it will be due to an unstated assumption.
Do you have any stories you care to share about assumptions made during a mentoring relationship? Feel free to leave them in the comments section.Image Credit: © Yuri Arcurs | Dreamstime.com