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From the hundreds of mentoring partnerships I’ve witnessed in programs ranging from the tech industry to education to triathlon to government to community development, the single biggest factor in relationship breakdown is unclear expectations and lack of alignment on how to carry out the relationship. Same is true for informal, naturally occurring mentoring partnerships. The focus is typically on the tangible learning outcomes of the relationship whether business, career or goal accomplishment. Seldom do people take the time to discuss the relationship itself and how to make it work for both yet the quality of the relationship itself is vital to the outcomes.

The solution? Create a partnership agreement. Make the first activity of the mentoring relationship a conversation about how to work together. Designing your alliance to determine your partnership agreements and parameters has multiple benefits:

  • creates the foundational platform upon which the work in the relationship will happen
  • generates shared responsibility and accountability for the functioning of the relationship
  • creates connection and contributes significantly to the positivity in the relationship

A partnership agreement heightens awareness of relationship dynamics and prevents relationship missteps down the road by providing a means for dealing with ‘bumps’ along the way. The agreement has two aspects to it – the practical and human factors.

The Practical Factors – Ground Rules and Relationship Boundaries

Ground rules are the simple often overlooked aspects of the relationship. They include the norms, accepted behaviours, guidelines or conventions that partners agree to abide by in a partnership such as being on time, rescheduling, time of day to meet, or paying your own expenses even if just a coffee.

A frank discussion about the boundaries of the mentoring relationship enables partners to build trust and ensure mutual accountability. Boundaries include such things as type of access to your mentor/mentee (texting, phone, email, social media platforms etc), frequency of contact, confidentiality of conversations and agreeable topics for mentoring.

The Human Factors – Relationship Commitments

Discussing relationship commitments enables mentoring partners to sustain the focus on learning, manage expectations and build trust in the relationship. Here is a template for having a discussion about relationship commitments.

  • What can you count on me for?
  • When am I at my best?
  • What am I like when things get difficult?
  • What do I want from you at that time?

The guidelines in this article can be applied in any relationship whether mentoring, work or personal. Establishing clear expectations up front means greater positivity and less anxiety about how to deal with situations when they arise… which they will because we are human and our ‘humanness’ as I like to call it, will inevitably show up. A little planning up front means much greater ease later on. It goes a long way towards deepening the connection and creating a lasting, positive relationship.

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