Challenging mentoring relationships

Common Problems:

The literature on why mentoring relationships struggle or even fail shows considerable consensus. The SCSE Faculty Mentoring Program has designed Mentor and Mentee training workshops to mitigate the common problems listed below:

  • Poor communication
  • Lack of respect (real or perceived)
  • Insufficient commitment of time and/or effort
  • Divergent values
  • Lack of personal connection
  • Mentor’s lack of experience
  • Mentee’s poor time management and/or follow through
  • Inappropriate behavior based on sexism, racism, or other biases
  • Competition between mentor and mentee
  • Exploitative behavior
  • Not knowing how to end a mentoring relationship

It is important to recognize that:

  • Some problems in mentoring relationships can be solved, especially if identified early and if problems are mutually experienced and recognized.
  • Not all mentoring relationships will succeed from the perspective of either the mentee or mentor.
  • Mentee needs may change over time and it may not be possible for a single mentor to respond adequately.
  • There are numerous opportunities extend mentoring relationships in less formal contexts.
  • The SCSE faculty mentoring program has a built in mechanism to permit changes to mentoring team on an annual basis.

What steps can I take?

  • If possible, raise the issue directly with your faculty mentor in an individual meeting or in the context of the meeting with your Department Head where you discuss the annual renewal of your mentoring agreement.
  • Raise issues in training workshops to make others aware of potential problems and provide an opportunity to trouble shoot with a broader group of faculty.
  • Identify a mediator such as another member of your mentoring team, your Department Head, or the Dean's office (Associate Department Head or Faculty Mentoring Program Coordinator) to facilitate a conversation about the disfunction in the mentoring relationship.
  • If relationship needs to end, work with your Department Head to determine how to minimize animosity and hurt feelings. Both partners must be protected.  

Additional reading:

From the Mentor’s perspective

Eby, L. T., J. R. Durley, S. C. Evans, and B. R. Ragins. 2008. Mentors' perceptions of negative mentoring experiences: Scale development and nomological validation. Journal of Applied Psychology 93:358.

From the Mentee’s perspective

Eby, L. T. and S. E. McManus. 2004. The protégé's role in negative mentoring experiences. Journal of Vocational behavior 65:255-275.

Eby, L. T., S. E. McManus, S. A. Simon, and J. E. Russell. 2000. The protege's perspective regarding negative mentoring experiences: The development of a taxonomy. Journal of Vocational Behavior 57:1-21.