Resolving Conflict In A Mentoring Relationship

Successful mentoring relationships happen when both parties have the same expectations and a route in place to get there. This means the early setting of ground rules; both parties must understand what their mentoring relationship is expected to achieve and set boundaries for time and behaviour expectations. A good mentor can share information, support the mentee, and encourage them to develop their own views. The mentor should be able to give advice and guidance to assist the mentee with clarifying their ideas and reaching the goals set. 

The mentor/mentee relationship is a two-way process that succeeds when the parties have mutual respect and can listen and develop trust to establish a productive two-way dialogue. The mentee must be able to contribute substantially to create a mutually beneficial relationship. However, conflicts within mentoring relationships can happen. After all, you have two individuals that, without successful boundary setting, could have very different expectations of what the mentoring partnership should achieve.

Areas that may cause mentoring conflict

  • Cancelling or postponing meetings – one party is not fully committed to scheduled meetings, which leads to resentment, and the relationship can quickly break down.
  • Wanting more time investment – where the parties have different need levels. Meeting schedules can seem excessive to the other party, leading to conflict if it doesn’t settle.
  • Excessive expectation or over-dependence – a mentor can expect the mentee to become a clone and overload them with information and expectations. The mentee may also expect more direction and support than is reasonable or become overly reliant on mentor approval. Mentors may also excessively seek mentee validation, not allowing the mentee to develop their path.  
  • Lack of responsibility or manipulation – the mentee may hide behind the mentor and not take responsibility for their decisions or actions, blaming the mentor because they took their suggestion. Mentors may overly manipulate the mentee to carry out their workload in the name of learning.
  • The wrong pairing – sometimes, the mentor/mentee relationship is simply a matter of wrong pairing. Learning styles, experiences or expectations don’t align sufficiently to benefit either party.

Overcoming mentoring relationship challenges

  1. Set clear boundaries on time and expected outcomes for the relationship. Results must be measurable so both parties know when the job is done. Set behaviour boundaries that must be observed regardless of conflict.
  2. Mentors need to understand the role and limitations they have as a mentor. Mentorship training is worthwhile, as the skills required for effective mentoring go beyond job knowledge. A mentor needs to be able to pass on their skills to others.
  3. Identify whether the conflict results from behavioural or personality problems requiring different resolution approaches.
  4. View conflict as an issue of joint responsibility to avoid the blame game.
  5. Recognise when mismatched personality issues, such as the mentee’s over-confidence or the mentor’s domination, make the relationship unworkable.
  6. Accept that some issues may require outside mediation if no suitable conclusion can be reached. 

Mentoring relationships should be a positive experience for both parties, and when they work well, both the mentor and mentee will grow. Handling conflict is another lesson on the path to successful mentoring partnerships.

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