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Beginning the mentoring relationship


Published: 18 May 2021

Version: 1.0 - May 2021

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The first mentoring meeting

The first mentoring meeting involves preparation, planning and engagement to achieve the best possible start to the mentoring relationship. To assist you in preparing for your first meeting, here are some helpful prompts:

  • Planning - think about when and where you would like to have the first meeting, duration and the agenda
  • Preparation - think about what you want from the relationship and what you want from this first meeting
  • Getting to know each other - developing a new relationship will take time with the relationship evolving as you become more familiar with each other; to begin with, you may want to understand each other’s background and experience of mentoring
  • Expectations - share your initial expectations of the programme, the relationship and each other; this may change as the relationship evolves but an initial discussion helps to navigate the early stage of the relationship and can provide a point of reference
  • Ground rules - it is useful to discuss the mentoring relationship ground rules; for advice see Phases of the mentoring relationship - agreeing the mentoring ground rules
  • Mentoring contract - it is useful to discuss the mentoring contract 
  • Availability and meeting schedule - the schedule for when, where and frequency of meetings will help to provide an early structure
  • Frequency of reviews - informally reviewing the relationship (in addition to the formal evaluation of the mentoring programme) will assist in understanding the value of the programme and relationship for both the mentor and mentee; you can agree on when and how you would anticipate undertaking this informal review

Questions to consider:

  • Reflecting on the summary above, what other items might you include in the first mentoring meeting?
  • Reflecting on your previous experience of mentoring, either as a mentor or mentee, what aspects of the mentoring contract were most helpful to guide the relationship?

Purpose and direction within the mentoring relationship

Establishing purpose and direction within the relationship is where the mentor and mentee gain clarity about what each aims to achieve from the relationship and how to navigate their time together. It can take several meetings to establish a clear sense of purpose and direction and, of course, this may change as the relationship progresses and matures. Often, the greater the degree of rapport, purpose and direction, the greater the degree of commitment and satisfaction is attained by both the mentor and mentee.

In time, the mentee, with the support of their mentor, may define a specific goal which may involve personal and professional change. It is both the defining of a goal and committing to change that often brings energy to the relationship. But, knowing what we want, why we want it and how we are going to get there is one of the most difficult issues for people to tackle.

As Lis Merrick, Managing Director of Coach Mentoring Limited describes, ‘having at least one clear goal or some tangible direction is important in creating a sense of purpose and urgency in a mentoring relationship. Without this focus, there will not be momentum. The mentee may understand their direction in advance of the relationship starting. For example, if they already have a personal development plan. Or perhaps the mentee has sought out their mentor to work specifically on a transition they are facing. However, the mentor may need to support their mentee to develop direction and use questions such as: What does success look like for the mentee? To uncover what the mentee really values in their life.’

The mentor might use some of the following questions to establish purpose and direction:

  • Will this matter to you, and/or others in a year’s time?
  • What change will make the greatest positive difference in your life now and in the future?
  • What will this agenda mean for you personally in terms of development, learning and opportunities?

Questions to consider:

  • As a mentor, reflecting on the summary above, how might you challenge your mentee’s thinking to ensure your mentee is working on the right areas?
  • Reflecting on your previous experience of mentoring, either as a mentor or mentee, what questions were most helpful in establishing purpose and direction?

Creating the mentoring contract

As you embark on your mentoring relationship, establishing the mentoring contract is an important step in setting the foundation. The NIHR Academy mentoring programme is underpinned by the  European Mentoring and Coaching Council (EMCC) Global Competence Framework which describes a number of capability indicators and examples of mentoring behaviours or principles. The third competency area is managing the contract which requires mentoring programme participants to establish and maintain the expectations and boundaries of the mentoring contract with the mentee/mentor. 

In the early phase of the relationship, both the mentee and mentor will collaborate to create a mentoring contract. 

The following checklist of questions can be used as an aid to your initial discussion:

  • What is the mentor responsible for?
  • What is the mentee responsible for?
  • What are the boundaries of confidentiality in our mentoring relationship?
  • How often do we meet and who takes primary responsibility?  
  • How long are the sessions likely to be?  
  • Where are we going to meet? e.g. if online who will set up the meeting and using which online meeting tool?
  • What are the arrangements if either party needs to cancel or postpone a meeting?  
  • What are the core topics we want to discuss?
  • How are the agenda and learning goals set?
  • How will we contact each other between sessions? 
  • What involvement or expectations (if any) do any third parties have of the mentoring relationship?
  • How are we going to record key outcomes and learning?
  • How will we know if things are going well?
  • How often do we review our progress to make sure the mentoring is effective?
  • What will we do if things are not going well? How will we end the relationship if either party thinks it is not working out?
  • How will we close the mentoring relationship?

Questions to consider:

  • Reflecting on the summary above, what other items might you include in the mentoring contract?
  • Reflecting on your previous experience of mentoring, either as a mentor or mentee, what aspects of the mentoring contract were most helpful to guide the relationship?

Building rapport within the mentoring relationship

Two of the most important indicators of a successful mentoring relationship are the degree of rapport and a sense of direction and purpose. Rapport building is often the first step in creating a successful mentoring relationship, therefore it is a key competence for both mentors and mentees. A sense of shared values is a significant aspect to building rapport; shared values can establish common ground, for example, sharing what is important in life, qualities that we may look for in others.

Professor David Clutterbuck, Natalie Lancer and Professor David Megginson, in their second edition of the book ‘Techniques for Coaching and Mentoring’ (2015) suggest five components to great rapport:

  • Trust – the mentee and mentor need to have confidence in the agreement that is made, the confidential nature of the mentoring relationship, the stories, personal and professional insights shared are honoured within the confines of the mentoring agreement and ground rules
  • Focus – ensuring that both the mentee and mentor are fully attentive at all times requires a high degree of concentration and active listening skills; listening to respond without judgement or intent is a core competence for all mentors
  • Empathy – the mentee needs to feel that their mentor genuinely understands their perspective and shows care and consideration in relation to their perspective even though they may not share their same view of the context or situation
  • Congruence – both the mentee and mentor should have a common understanding of the purpose of the mentoring programme and relationship, a shared understanding and expectations
  • Empowerment – both the mentee and mentor should feel free within the relationship, not constrained; therefore, able to flourish and develop their potential

Questions to consider:

  • Reflecting on the summary above, how do you know when you have great rapport with someone?
  • Reflecting on your previous experience of mentoring, either as a mentor or mentee, what techniques did you use to build rapport?

Agreeing the mentoring ground rules

Discussing and agreeing mentoring ‘ground rules’ is one of the most important conversations you will have with your mentoring partner. Mentoring ‘ground rules’ enable the identification, alignment and management of expectations in the mentoring relationship. They also lay the foundation for building and strengthening the relationship.

The mentoring ground rules are often embedded in the mentoring contract and might include the following items:

  • Agreeing the topics that you plan not to discuss. There may be certain professional and personal areas that may not be appropriate or relevant to include in mentoring discussions. It is important that both mentor and mentee agree what topics or areas are ‘off limits’ for discussion.
  • How you want to give and receive feedback. Feedback is an important aspect of the ongoing evaluation of the mentoring relationship. Feedback can help to redirect the relationship and shift the focus if needed.
  • Your mutual expectations of each other. These should be discussed at the first meeting to ensure that both of you are clear on what you expect from the relationship.
  • How and when you will connect and communicate with each other. Any limitations to contact must be clear from the beginning in order to manage expectations of the mentor and mentee.
  • How you will address challenges should they arise. Challenges within the relationship, or stumbling blocks may occur, so it is good to establish how you plan to address these should the situation arise.
  • Ending the mentoring relationship early. It is helpful to identify what steps you will follow if you decide to prematurely end the relationship for any reason.

Questions to consider:

  • Reflecting on the summary above, what other items might you include in the mentoring ‘ground rules’?
  • Reflecting on your previous experience of mentoring, either as a mentor or mentee, to what extent were your ‘ground rules’ helpful in the development and success of the relationship?

Additional resources