Mentoring Challenges

How to identify when a mentoring relationship that is not working

It is important to be able to identify signs indicating that a mentoring relationship is not working. Some signs include1:

  • Either party is canceling appointments
  • Either party is failing to turn up or regularly rearranges last minute
  • Either party is consistently failing to make progress on actions identified in meetings
  • Either party appears distracted in sessions or cuts sessions short
  • Either party does not significantly contribute to the conversation during meetings

Reasons why the relationship may not be working

Factors that can lead to problems in the mentoring relationship include 2,3,4:

  • Lack of feedback
  • Poor communication
  • Lack of time
  • Mismatch of personalities
  • Incompatible goals and expectations
  • Lack of commitment
  • Reluctance of the mentee to own and pursue his or her own development
  • Perceived (or real) competition 

Addressing problems in the mentoring relationship

A successful mentoring relationship relies on feedback from both participants. A mentor or mentee may not be getting the feedback they need to successfully contribute to the mentoring relationship5.
For a mentor, asking a mentee for feedback on how they are finding the mentoring arrangement may foster important dialogue that will highlight the aspects of the relationship that is working and those areas that are causing concern. It is important to be honest with a mentee and to let them know if you feel something isn’t working in the mentoring arrangement. It is important to provide examples of why you feel this way. By initiating this conversation, you will be able to explore whether there are things you could both do to get the relationship back on track.
Questions to facilitate feedback5:
How am I doing?
How are you finding the mentoring relationship so far?
What areas do I need to improve on? What areas do you feel you need to improve on?
How would you do this differently?
It is important to acknowledge that a mentor and mentee can be completely different people and have clashing personalities, values, experiences, or teaching/learning styles which can hinder the progress of the mentoring relationship2,6. At the beginning of any mentoring relationship, it is important to outline the expectations and boundaries that are to be respected in the mentoring relationship which may help alleviate conflicts that may arise as a result of differing personalities7,8. For more information regarding the creation of a mentoring contact to outline the expectations and boundaries within a mentoring relationship, click here.
A mentee is also responsible for raising any concerns they may have regarding the mentoring relationship with their mentor. It is important to note that given the power imbalance that often exists between a mentor and mentee, a mentee may not feel comfortable discussing with their mentor that they feel that the relationship is not working. It is suggested that mentoring programs establish a mentorship facilitator to act as mediator when a mentoring relationship is failing and to help defuse a potentially tense situation with the previous mentor2.
For more information regarding common challenges in a mentoring relationship and how to address them, please review the following resource.

Ending a Mentoring Relationship

In certain circumstances, it may be best for a mentor and mentee to split ways. If the terms of the mentoring relationship cannot be renegotiated or realigned, it may be best for the mentoring relationship to come to a close9. It is important for this to be seen as a positive aspect of the mentoring process1, given that closure will often lead to action and future growth10. Having a constructive and timely conversation indicating that it is best for the mentoring relationship to end prevents a match from persisting unnecessarily.
It is important that the mentee is advised when the last session will happen. When the end of the mentoring relationship is reached, mentors are encouraged to create a positive and celebratory final session8.


  1. Failure of the mentoring relationship : Guidance for mentors. Available at: (Accessed: 27th August 2019)
  2. Straus, S. E., Johnson, M. O., Marquez, C. & Feldman, M. D. Characteristics of successful and failed mentoring relationships: A qualitative study across two academic health centers. Acad. Med. 88, 82–89 (2013).
  3. Eller, L. S., Lev, E. L. & Feurer, A. Key components of an effective mentoring relationship: A qualitative study. Nurse Educ. Today 34, 815–820 (2014).
  4. Zerzan, J. T., Hess, R., Schur, E., Phillips, R. S. & Rigotti, N. Making the most of mentors: A guide for mentees. Acad. Med. 84, 140–144 (2009).
  5. 3 Signs a Mentoring Relationship is Not Working. Available at: (Accessed: 27th August 2019)
  6. Addressing Common Challenges | OHSU. Available at: (Accessed: 27th August 2019)
  7. RCPCH(UK). Standards for Mentoring Programmes & Schemes. (2014).
  8. Establishing ground rules of the mentoring relationship: Guidance for mentors. Available at: (Accessed: 27th August 2019)
  9. What Happens if There is a Bad Mentor Match? Available at: (Accessed: 27th August 2019)
  10. Zachary, L. J. The mentee’s guide: Making mentoring work for you. (Jossey-Bass, 2009).