“Avoiding Pitfalls in Mentoring Relationships (A True Story) Part I of III”

By: Misti Burmeister

“Life’s most urgent question is, ‘what are you doing for others?'”-Martin Luther King Jr.

Barbara, a young professional business owner in the consulting industry, was recently given an opportunity to receive a mentor and advisory board through XYZ Organization, a not-for-profit focused on helping women in the professional arena. Kathy, the woman selected to be her mentor has a thriving PR business and is very successful. As you can imagine, Barbara was thrilled about the opportunity to work with Kathy.

Their first telephone meeting went very well. They discussed the areas where Barbara needed the most support, like budgeting and marketing. Part of Kathy’s commitment as Barbara’s mentor was to assist her in putting together an advisory board of experts to assist with growing her business. Needless to say, Barbara was quite excited.

After receiving sample public relations (PR) and marketing plans to work with, Barbara quickly produced her own marketing and PR plans and eagerly delivered them to Kathy for feedback. To Barbara’s surprise, Kathy emailed back within a day with both documents fully edited and with track changes. While Barbara was certainly surprised to receive a fully edited document, she was happy to have support and mentorship. As a result, Barbara took action on all items Kathy suggested as quickly as possible.

Late one Friday afternoon, Barbara wanted to share a marketing email she and her team had created using Kathy’s suggestions that showcased a new product. Barbara mentioned that she was planning to send it out on Monday and was eager to share their work with her. Kathy’s response was not at all what Barbara had expected. Kathy assumed that Barbara wanted her to edit this document over the weekend and was quite irritated that she would make such a request.

It’s easy to see why Kathy came to this conclusion considering she had edited a document previously and Barbara mentioned the attached document would be sent out on Monday. While Barbara never asked for editing, she certainly appreciated it and was hoping to gain some feedback, even if only a few thoughts.

Unfortunately, before Barbara had a chance to clarify this misunderstanding, Kathy cc’d everyone from XYZ Organization responsible for setting up this mentoring program to let them all know that this mentoring relationship needed to be redefined and that her responsibilities as a mentor were unclear. After a series of misread and misunderstood interactions, XYZ Organization told Barbara to halt all conversations with Kathy until they could spend time teaching Barbara how to receive mentoring.

Barbara made final attempts via email to apologize for stepping out of bounds. But she felt at this point that her emails were being misconstrued. I recommended that she call the person in charge of the mentoring program and let her know that any further communications needed to take place by telephone. Barbara made the call and left a voice message.Two weeks later, Barbara received an email from the president of XYZ Organization stating that after a cooling-down period, the committee would reconvene to let her know how they were planning to proceed. It will be interesting to see what happens to this relationship!As a woman entrepreneur in need of guidance and excited about the opportunity to work with a mentor, Barbara was even more confounded. While it would be easy to blame either Kathy or Barbara for an inability to communicate effectively, the real truth is, challenges like these are why so many mentoring programs fail.

Communication between young and seasoned professionals is not always as compatible as peanut butter and jelly, but usually just as different. In a mentoring relationship, it is common to have two people who come from different experiences, have a different outlook on the matters at hand and often communicate very differently.

In the April and May newsletters, I will provide tips for successful mentoring programs. You can expect five specific tips in April and four in May. I welcome you to consider how you might implement some of these ideas in your organization. For additional suggestions or further support with mentoring programs, please email info@inspirioninc.com or call us at 703.865.6033.

Read more on Mentorship Programs in Misti’s new book, From Boomers to Bloggers: Success Strategies Across Generations, available now on Amazon.com and Barnes&Noble.com.

Offered with respect,

Misti Signature

Misti Burmeister, Founder/CEO, Inspirion Inc

© Inspirion, Inc. 2008. Copying and distribution of this article without modification is permitted in any medium without royalty, provided that the copyright notice and this notice are preserved.