How to Close a Mentoring Relationship
All good things must come to an end. That was my thought a few years ago as my husband and I considered whether or not our son could and should continue with hippotherapy.
Hippotherapy allowed our son, who has cerebral palsy, to ride a horse with the assistance of therapists so that he could work on gaining core strength and head control, while also feeling the vestibular motion of the horse’s gait as if he were the one able to walk. It was a fantastic form of therapy for our son for four years and he absolutely loved it, but we had come to a point where we had to weigh his safety with the benefits of hippotherapy.
Since our son can’t sit up on his own, he needed to ride a pony (and no, that is not a baby horse) so that the horse was not too tall. The therapist and a volunteer assistant helped hold him on the horse while a guide walked the horse through the arena. It was tough work on the bodies of those people holding up our son. And as he grew, it becomes even harder. Our son was 9 years old at the time and was getting tall. That made it harder for him to safely ride the horse since the people on the ground holding him up were starting to have a harder time reaching him in such a way as to provide the optimal support that he needed for his head, neck, and trunk. While we didn’t want to stop our son from participating in hippotherapy, the time had come for us to say goodbye to it.
It’s hard saying goodbye to something you love, enjoy, and have benefited from. I know many mentees and mentors feel this same way about ending their mentoring relationships. But just as with my son outgrowing hippotherapy, the chances are high that one day your mentoring relationship will have run its course. Do you know what to do when faced with this situation?
It might seem strange to think about how to end a relationship, but it is a very important step to consider. You’ve put time and effort into finding a mentor, setting goals, meeting with your partner, and working on your personal and professional development. When it comes to ending the relationship, you don’t want to lose focus and let your hard work crumble. That’s why I recommend you think about when, why, and how you want to close out your mentoring relationship.
When Should You End Your Mentoring Relationship?
Some mentoring programs have a preset end date assigned to them, such as a high-potential program that runs on a 12-month cycle. When the end of the year comes up, it’s time to end the relationship. That can make it easier on participants since they have a defined end-point that they know is coming.
But what if you don’t have a designated end date in mind? Then the choice is yours as to when you end the relationship, and it is something you should discuss with your mentor so that you are in agreement on the end date. Some ideas:
- Set an end date when you first start your relationship. You can always extend this date if the relationship is generating quality ideas and support that you need. But with an end date established right from the get-go, you and your mentor both know what to expect, how much time you are committing to the relationship, and how much time you have in order to accomplish your goals. This may help you stay focused on your goals since you have a finite amount of time together.
- Are you already in a relationship? No problem! Take a look at where you are in your relationship at this point and assess what progress you’ve made toward meeting your development goals. With that in mind, suggest a timeframe to your mentor for how much longer you want the relationship to last to help you meet your expressed goals. This might be just the kick in the pants that you need to help you cross the finish line.
Why Should You End Your Mentoring Relationship?
No one wants to say goodbye to a good thing, but sometimes it’s better to leave on a high note and when you still have a good relationship with your mentoring partner, rather than draining it dry to the point of atrophy, resentment, or dysfunction.
Mentoring relationships can require emotional and mental energy, so it is a good idea to take a break every so often to recharge your batteries. This can give both you and your mentor time to assess your progress and celebrate the accomplishments you’ve made. And just because you take a break from one mentor does not mean you have to take a break from mentoring. You can (and dare I say should?) have more than one mentor and can absolutely say goodbye to one mentor while still engaging with another!
See if any of these sound familiar:
- Our conversations have become a little flat and predictable.
- I feel like I’ve met my development goals.
- We end up talking about things unrelated to mentoring when we meet.
- We haven’t met in several weeks or even months.
- My development needs have changed since this relationship started.
- I’m not sure my mentor is committed to this relationship.
- I’m not sure I’m committed to this relationship.
- My priorities have shifted and I can’t give this relationship what I should.
All of these (and many more!) are flashing neon signs that it’s time to say goodbye to your mentoring relationship. Keep in mind that just because you may be ending the relationship at this point doesn’t mean that you can’t or won’t have a relationship with this mentor again in the future. And for those in more formal programs where there is an assigned end date, keep in mind that you and your mentor can continue a less formal ongoing mentoring relationship if you are both open to it and still see value in connecting.
How Should You End Your Mentoring Relationship?
When ending a mentoring relationship, you want to be as polite and amicable as possible, which means no ghosting! Ending a positive and fruitful relationship can seem easier than having to end a relationship because it’s not working out. Awkward, right?
The best thing to strive for is honesty. Tell your mentor that your goals have shifted, or that your priorities have changed, or that the two of you just don’t seem to be a good fit. Whatever the reason, be forthright with your mentor and give them the chance to weigh in with their opinion and observations. You might be surprised to find out they were thinking the same thing!
If you’ve come to an agreed upon end date and are ready to close your relationship, you can follow this easy 3-step plan:
- Evaluate your progress. Think about the goals you’ve set and the progress you’ve made. Ask your mentor to do the same so that you can have a conversation about this. Did you meet your development goals that you established at the beginning of the relationship?
- Get feedback. Meet with your mentor and compare notes. Does the mentor’s feedback align with your own self-evaluation of the progress you made? What surprised you? What did you expect to hear?
- Plan next steps. Based on the conversation you and your mentor have, decide if it’s time to end the relationship. Did you meet your goals and feel confident in closing out this relationship? Do you need to adjust the goals given the feedback you received? Can this mentor help you with any new or revised goals? Are they willing to keep mentoring you at this point? Do you want them to?
Come to an agreement with your mentor on the status of your relationship and move forward from there.
It can be hard to think about saying goodbye to a good mentor and a positive mentoring relationship, but it can be detrimental to push the relationship beyond its natural stopping point. Circumstances change, and just because it’s time to say goodbye to your mentor at this point doesn’t mean that you have to say goodbye forever. By knowing when to say goodbye, you make it easier for the mentor to say yes again at a later date.
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