There are many reasons why mentors and mentees can fall out of love with each other. Dr Tina Ruseva, the cofounder of peer mentoring platform Mentessa, has been part of over 30 mentoring programs as both a mentee and a mentor. She says that mentoring is a purposeful relationship so, if it’s not working out, it’s best to break up politely to save everyone’s time and energy.
Here are her tips for how to do so:
1. Make the most of your mentor
Before deciding to fully break up with your mentor, have a think about how you could make more use of your sessions. Start by giving some honest feedback. If something isn’t clear or doesn’t work for you, say so — and don’t beat around the bush. This will show you’re taking ownership of the situation and are willing to make things work. If mentoring isn’t going well it might also be necessary to meet more often, virtually or in person. Mentoring is a human relationship. Just like all other relationships it needs time to develop and flourish.
2. Break up with your mentor in person
The relationship you have with your mentor should go by the same rules as any other relationship you have in your life. Breaking up with a mentor respectfully requires carving out time for a face-to-face conversation, rather than sending an email or LinkedIn message. It’s important to remember that you can’t simply cut a mentor out of your life — if you have mutual contacts, work in the same industry or have similar networks, it’s likely you’ll hear from that person again. That’s why it’s crucial to take the time to talk in order to leave things on a high note.
3. Prepare in advance
When I broke up with my mentor, I wanted her to feel like I was grateful for her time and effort — so I thought through what I was going to say beforehand. Prior to your conversation, collect your thoughts on paper. Reflect what went well, what didn’t work, what you learned and what things you will take away from the experience. It might even help to practice what you’re going to say with a friend beforehand.
4. Give feedback
No one likes to hear the reasons why they’re being dumped, but there are ways of giving feedback that doesn’t turn the conversation sour. Big no-no’s are using phrases like “please understand I need something else” or “please understand I am too busy for this” as that can come across as pushing blame onto the mentor. Instead, use neutral phrases such as “I’ve noticed that our conversations lack energy” or “I feel that this is a mismatch and that I’m wasting your time.”
4. Make it a clean-cut goodbye
When you turn up to the meeting, don’t beat around the bush. Tell that person clearly the reasons why you are discontinuing the mentoring, but don’t drag the conversation out further by suggesting you should have time to “think things over” or arrange a follow-up meeting. Show your gratitude for the time that person has given to you and say goodbye — this mentoring thing is now over.
5. Next time, be clear on your expectations
To avoid another mentoring mismatch make sure to outline exactly what you’re looking for from the mentoring sessions the first time you meet. Tell them who you are and what you’re building, what your goals and hopes are, and establish how you will communicate with each other — and be specific! Discuss whether it’s possible to communicate frequently on Slack and WhatsApp and how long you should wait for a response — or whether you will meet weekly for a long two-hour session, with no texting in between.
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