When mentoring relationships fail, one of the most common reasons is that the mentor’s behaviour is incongruent with the mentee’s needs or with promoting insight-provoking dialogue. Some common dysfunctional mentor behaviours include talking too much, being overly directive, being patronising, and making inappropriate comments.

Sometimes, the mentee, in turn, feels unable or unwilling to confront this behaviour. So what can the mentee do?

Some practical steps include:

  • Look back to your initial contracting discussions. Try to articulate (so you understand better) how your expectations of behaviour and the behaviour you see differ. This will help you structure your thoughts when you address the issue directly with your mentor.
  • If the behaviours were not addressed at the contracting stage, think what you would like to put into a revised contract now. Be as specific as possible about what you want to be different.
  • Be prepared to talk about the impact of the behaviour – how you react to it, how it makes you feel etc
  • Remember that “behaviour breeds behaviour” — what might you be doing to stimulate and /or reinforce the behaviour?
  • If you feel lacking in confidence about how to broach the subject with your mentor, seek advice from the programme coordinator or a trusted colleague. Ask them to rehearse with you the conversation you want to have and how you will initiate it.
  • Remember that reviewing the relationship (as well as progress against your goals) is an important part of good mentoring practice. You have a responsibility to be honest with your mentor, just as you expect them to be honest to you.
  • Remind yourself of the rules of giving effective feedback ; Remember that the more awkward you feel about delivering critical feedback, the harder it will be for both of you. Place feedback in the context of “what I’m appreciating and what I’m finding less helpful”.
  • If you can, separate this conversation from the recurrent mentoring sessions. This allows you both to focus fully on the issue and gives both of you subsequent time to reflect and respond.
  • Explore with your mentor how you will both know that the behaviour has changed
  • If the mentor takes offence (actually a rare occurrence in the circumstances) take time out. Seek further advice from your programme coordinator.

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