Business Mentoring Relationships: Managing Expectations

When you get together with a friend, you probably expect to share the important things that have happened in your life since you last met. Likewise, your friend probably has the same expectation. Imagine your surprise if your friend suddenly said that she or he was not interested in what was going on in your life and not really sure as to why you both were getting together. This would be an example of having different expectations.

Like any other relationship, mentoring creates expectations. Some of these are part of the definition of mentoring while others are things that we carry within ourselves and expect, yet we may not articulate them to the other partner.

Expectations are natural and can often be met if they're realistic and if they're negotiated properly. However, if they're not articulated or if they're not consistent with the purposes of the relationship, then this can lead to disappointment and problems. Therefore, an important step in creating an effective mentoring relationship is to discuss and negotiate expectations. Here are some strategies on doing just that.

Have a discussion early on with your partner to discuss each other's expectations. The mentor should lead this conversation. Make sure that both partners articulate expectations but also follow this formula:

State the expectations. Allow the other partner to ask clarifying questions to understand what the expectation means.

Agree on this expectation or mutually agree on a common definition and then move on to the next expectation.

If an expectation is not realistic or is inappropriate, this should be noted and put aside as "not applicable" or "to be discussed at a future time." In the future, there might be a way to make it a more realistic expectation in light of the mentoring program goals.

Mentors and Mentorees must be able to have these discussions and come to mutual agreement before the actual mentoring begins. This is not a situation when it's okay to agree to disagree. The "rules of engagement" are based on a common understanding of expectations.

Here are some other questions to ask:

  • What do I expect of my partner in this mentoring relationship?
  • What do I think my partner's expectations are of me?
  • [If you're a mentor] What are my expectations of my mentoree's immediate manager?
  • [If you're a mentoree] What are my expectations of my immediate manager?
  • What are my expectations of the Mentoring Program Manager? 

Remember, expectations play a key role in mentoring. We're usually unaware of our expectations, and, even when we are aware, we often don't articulate them to the other person we're dealing with. If mentoring is to be successful, each partner must know his or her own expectations, articulate them, and agree on whether the stated expectations are achievable in the mentoring relationship.

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