How to Break Up with Your Mentor

Having a great mentor can do wonders for your professional development and career. But even the best mentoring relationships can run their course or become ineffective. How do you know when it’s time to move on? And what’s the best way to end the relationship without burning bridges?

A good mentoring relationship is as long as it should be and no longer. If you are no longer learning from your mentor or the chemistry is simply not there, there’s no point in prolonging it. You do yourself and your mentor a disservice if you stay in a relationship that isn’t meeting your needs. If in order to grow, it’s necessary to move on, don’t hesitate to break it off.

Here’s how to end things graciously

Take stock of your needs and goals Ask yourself what value you’ve gained from your mentor, what guidance and support you feel you aren’t getting, and what you want going forward. With introspection, you can figure out what’s missing in the relationship and whether there is an opportunity to reshape it in some way.

Consider giving your mentor a second chance Don’t assume that your mentor has a crystal ball. If you aren’t getting the guidance you want, it may be because you haven’t articulated your expectations and needs. People don’t realize they need to educate their mentors, too. You should spell out what you are striving toward and how you think your mentor can help.

Don’t draw it out If you decide the relationship isn’t working, act on it quickly. You don’t want to waste your time, or frankly theirs. If your mentor-mentee arrangement is more formal, it’s often advisable to arrange a time to discuss the issue face-to-face. But not everyone has to break up over lunch. Depending on the nature of your previous interactions, parting ways could involve a note or a telephone call, or be as simple as letting the relationship fade away.

Disengage with gratitude Gratitude is the key to leaving gracefully. Start the separation conversation by thanking your mentor for all of her time and effort. Detail what you’ve learned in the course of the relationship and how those skills will help your career in the future. Speak in terms of how your needs have changed rather than in how your mentor is not doing x,y, and z for you. Maintain the focus on yourself and your reasons for wanting to move on. By keeping it positive, you’ll leave open the possibility of future collaborations.

Be transparent and direct Be as honest and transparent as possible about why your future plans necessitate a shift, You might say, Given my change in focus, I wonder if getting together regularly is the best use of your time. Don’t worry too much that they will be upset or offended. Prolonging a relationship out of respect for them doesn’t help them. They likely have plenty of other things they can do. If your mentor does react negatively, listen well, give him the opportunity to share his perspective, and if you don’t agree, just thank him for having shared it and move on.

Keep the door open In today’s workplace, connections are more important than ever, and you’re likely to come across your former mentor at some point in the future. Since you want to part ways with your professional reputation intact, make every effort not to burn bridges. Be sure to offer her any assistance she might need in the future so you can return the kindness and help she has given you. You never know when you are going to encounter this person again, whether as a boss, a subordinate, or a peer. And you never know if you might need them again.

Principles to Remember

Do:

  • Consider whether the relationship can be recharged — give your mentor an opportunity to adapt with you
  • Emphasize your appreciation and thanks above all else
  • Describe what you’ve learned from them and how those skills will help your career going forward

Don’t:

  • Stay in the relationship out of obligation — you’ll only waste your time and theirs
  • Focus on the relationship’s shortcomings  — emphasize the positive
  • Burn bridges — you never know when you might encounter them again

Read Great on the Job by Jodi Glickman if you need more suggestions.

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