Breaking Up Is Hard to Do
We all know the value of productive mentoring relationships for career growth and development. But, like any relationship, the relationship between mentor and protégé isn’t always sunshine and roses. When things aren’t going quite as well as you’d like, it’s easy to think “I have to fire my mentor!” or “I have to cut the cord with my protégé!”, but if you’re thinking about calling off your mentoring relationship and aren’t quite sure how to do it, a bit of reflection is in order. The object isn’t to simply get out of the conversation alive and be done. Before you voice your desire to terminate the relationship and alter the direction of your relationship permanently, reflect on the following:
- You say you’re ready to end it?—Consider how you started it. What type of agreements did you have in place? What commitments to the relationship did you make? Telling your partner about your concerns only when you are terminating the relationship doesn’t allow them the time to shift to meet your needs. This may come across as your own unwillingness to devote the effort and commitment needed to make the relationship a success.
- What’s not working? Personality or philosophical mismatch? Are you bored or did you simply finish your goals ahead of schedule? Are your conversations off-topic? Understand where your partner’s ownership of the relationship stops and yours begins. Consider with your partner how to recalibrate the relationship. Relationships can require some creativity. Make sure you can leave the relationship knowing you did everything you could to make it right.
- What would you like the relationship to look like instead? Are you looking for a three month break with the ability to check in after you’ve had some more time to make progress? Do you want a clean break but the ability to check in with an occasional email? An informal coffee? No contact at all?
- If you’re set on calling off the relationship, how can you hold this conversation with appreciation, respect, honesty, and yes, grace? Much of your professional journey may be still ahead of you. Even if you’re winding down your career, tarnishing your reputation instead of taking the higher road doesn’t make sense in our highly connected “small world.”
Now that you know the end goal of your conversation, here are a few thoughts on how to make the most of a difficult situation:
- Appreciation. Approach the conversation with an appreciation for the time you’ve shared and indicate specific ways you’ve grown as the protégé, or witnessed the protégé grow.
- Respect. Even if your partner wasn’t able to provide exactly what you needed to sustain the relationship, a respectful approach keeps your integrity at the end of the relationship intact. This is still a time for you to model leadership growth by using a professional approach.
- Honesty. Do let your partner know what is prompting your desire to “complete” or end the relationship. Offer your honest feedback understanding they will take from it what they are able.
- Grace. There is no doubt that this conversation could be a difficult or awkward one. Do what you need to do to prepare and practice your comments ahead of time. Remember that honesty is not a free pass for insensitivity or personal attacks.