How will you and your mentor know when it is time to move on and how do you do this amicably?
There will be a point in your relationship where it may be necessary to separate from each other. This may be for multiple reasons: change in interests; graduation; life changes; mentee and mentor have grown apart; or perhaps the relationship was not successful. Whatever the reason, how you transition from the relationship is as important as how you initiated it. Clear communication about why separation is needed will assist the mentee and mentor in being able to acknowledge the growth or failure that has occurred and define the reasons why separation at this time would benefit both. Separation could be as simple as it is time for the mentee to graduate or to begin his/her own professional career. Or, it could be as complicated as an unsuccessful mentoring relationship.
NOTE. Stage #4 guidelines are based on a relationship that has been cultivated with trust and respect. Mentoring relationships in which trust and respect have been broken or not earned may dissolve during the initiation or cultivation stage abruptly or without dialogue about how or why. In these cases, it is important that the impact on the mentee be considered, especially if such a relationship has affected their mental health and ability to engage fully in their research and studies.
You have now been in a mentoring relationship for some time. Whether the relationship is short term, situational, or long term, similar to other types of relationships, you may find a need or desire to separate from the relationship. That does not mean you cannot return to the relationship. It does mean, however, that if you are considering separating from the relationship that you must contemplate what or who has changed and why.
A phase that sums up Stage #3 is one by the great science fiction writer Ursula LeGuinn: “People change and they forget to tell each other.” The need to separate from your mentoring relationship may be for many reasons. Whatever they are, it is important that both mentor and mentee use the practices of Bearing Witness and Have You Talked to listen to understand why separation is being considered. After this is understood, the how to separate from one another is important.
When either mentor or mentee has arrived at the decision to separate, what steps can you take to ensure that such a change does no harm to either one of you, and that it supports the next steps in the mentee’s journey towards success?
If you have cultivated a mentoring relationship based on the characteristics of a mentoring relationship, such as reciprocity and understanding the contexts that shape each of you, the separation stage done with intention and purpose can help mentor and mentee redefine their relationship into something new and different (Stage #4).
How will you – mentor and mentee – begin this often difficult and painful process, one that may be necessary for both of your growths?
QUESTIONS TO ASK YOURSELF
- Have you reviewed individually or together your original and recent goals for the relationship?
- Have you achieved those goals?
- Have you reviewed individually or together what you wanted to receive/offer from the relationship (this may apply to short term or situational mentoring relationships and specifically identified skills or knowledge)?
- Have you received/offered what was agreed upon?
- How have you changed because of this mentoring relationship?
- Have your interests changed because of this relationship?
- If so, have you shared this change?
- Is the relationship in its current form expansive enough for those changes?
- If you are the mentor, have your research interests changed, or are they taking you in a direction professionally or physically away from your mentee?
- If you are the mentee, has the mentoring relationship resulted in a change in your research interests or professional plans?
- If your answers are yes, especially, then we recommend – if you have not already done so - scheduling a time to speak with each other using the practices of Bearing Witness and Have You Talked.
BEFORE THE MEETING
- State the reason for the meeting. While you may or may not be able to fully articulate this, we encourage you to reflect on the reasons for needing or wanting to change or separate from your mentoring relationship.
DURING THE MEETING
- Thank each other for the opportunity to have the mentoring relationship, and being able to receive/offer what was originally set as goals.
- Whether you are the mentor or mentee be clear about what you have received from the relationship.
- Also be clear about how this has changed the direction in which you’d like to go, or the research you’d like to pursue.
- Whether the mentor or mentee, be clear about how you’d like to move forward.
- Mentee: Ask whether or not the other person is able to support your new direction.
- If not, ask them are their colleagues they could recommend.
- If you have had a great mentoring relationship, ask if in the future you may contact them and share your work, or meet to talk informally. This is the beginning of Stage #5, the redefinition of the mentoring relationship.
- Mentor: State whether or not your new direction would or would not support the mentee.
- If not, offer some options for your mentee, including introducing them to other colleagues.
- Conclude the meeting by:
- Agreeing what steps need to be taken/completed to transition from the mentoring relationship (e.g., final reviews of any projects in process).
- Being clear whether or not you will stay in contact.
- Giving gratitude.
How long does this stage last? This stage can end abruptly (see the note). It can also be an intentional transition that allows both mentor and mentee to “get things in order” and bring the relationship to closure. Trust is the foundation of every relationship. If trust has been part of the relationship, the transition does not have to be difficult or painful. Instead, it is an opportunity for both mentor and mentee to show respect for an often misunderstood and resisted part of human relationships: change. The paradox of change: that without it neither mentor nor mentee can move forward and grow in new ways.
Before and during each of your meetings, commit to the practice of Bearing Witness. During the separation stage, bearing witness can help you discern the real reasons for needing to separate from the relationship. It can stop you from doubting yourself or taking the reasons for the separation personally or as a sign of failure.
Have you TALKED (Stage 4)?
(Note: when this practice is offered as part of a mentoring stage, the steps may be different).
Take time to commit to meeting regularly.
- Plan meetings at the beginning of the semester.
- Commit to meeting at least once a month.
- Be flexible with meeting format (e.g., virtual, texting, phone).
- If you are the faculty member, notice if there is a change in your communication with your mentee.
- If you are a graduate student, pay attention to how you are feeling before, during, and after you meet with your mentor.
Assess your semester plan regularly.
- If you are a graduate student, notice if your goals and research are changing drastically from your plan.
- If you are the faculty member, review your mentee’s weekly and monthly progress at your meeting. Pay attention to what is changing and how.
Listen to understand.
- If you find yourself listening and preparing an answer, stop. Instead, practice listening to the words being said, to facial expressions, to body movements.
- If necessary, let the speaker know you will be taking notes to help you remember and better respond.
- At this stage, listen for silences and hesitancies. Listen to what is really being said and any indications that the mentor/mentee is reluctant to continue in the relationship. Make it a practice that you both ask in the cultivation stage if and how the relationship is still serving your needs.
Know what you know or don't know. And be honest about it.
- Before you end your meeting, have you asked the questions you wanted to ask?
- If not, what questions do you need/want to ask for more information, to get clarification, to what additional resources might be needed?
- Is there anything that made you uncomfortable or uncertain?
- If there is question about whether or not to continue in the relationship, agree to continue discussions.
- If you are the faculty member, did your review of the semester plan or subsequent dialogue reveal that the mentoring relationship needs to change?
- Provided that the separation is not due to difficulty in the relationship, how can you assist the student make this transition?
- If you are the graduate student, did your review of the semester plan or subsequent dialogue reveal you need to transition from the relationship? If so, and provided the separation is not due to difficulty in the relationship, how can your mentor assist you in this change?
Decide if the direction in which you are going is what is needed at this moment?
- This would be the time to re-commit to mentoring in its fullest.
- If you are the faculty member, what will you do to mark the separation and help the mentee transition?
- If you are a graduate student, how does this separation help you move forward to the next step you want to take?