Key Factors in a Mentoring Relationship

Mentoring Relationship (C)

“In the end, it’s the reality of personal relationships that save everything.” ~ Thomas Merton

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Last week, we discussed the topic of mentorship in general and the potential benefits for both the mentor and mentee. This week, I wanted to spend time looking at the key factors in a mentoring relationship. Most of these factors pertain to any healthy relationship, and as for the purposes of our discussion, mentorship is essentially a relationship fostered out of workplace commonality. Many well-known and successful mentoring programs exist, such as Big Brothers Big Sisters, but these programs function quite differently than career mentorship.

Although during last week’s discussion, I did distinguish between a mentor and mentee, moving forward, I will be removing these labels and just looking at the mentoring relationship as a whole – which in the end is more reflective of what tends to evolve and is hoped to achieve.

What are key factors in a mentoring relationship?

By no means is the following list all inclusive, but instead, I deem these factors to be essential: 

1) Respect: One of the main ingredients of any healthy relationship is respect. Respecting another person’s opinion, outlook, experience and guidance, provides a solid foundation in a mentoring relationship.

2) Admiration: A role model is usually someone you admire, and therefore, someone you may naturally want to serve as your mentor. Having said this, if a mentoring relationship begins de novo, admiration will hopefully develop as both parties learn to appreciate one another.

3) Trust: As part of a medical mentoring relationship, confidential issues may be discussed including clinical encounters, colleagues, adverse events and job transitions. Knowing that you can trust the other person is the only way to truly benefit from a mentoring relationship. 

4) Communication: Arguably one of the most important pillars in any relationship. By having an open form of communication, both parties feel they are being listened to and heard, and in turn, this will help foster other factors such as respect, admiration and trust to grow.

5) Compatibility: Whether we like to admit it or not, not all relationships will be compatible, and therefore, we need to be mindful of this fact as part of the process. If not, take this opportunity to check in and assess why you may feel a lack of compatibility. Sometimes, it is a reflection of what we are most concerned about within ourselves.

The importance of civility in relationships

I really like the concept of civility that Dr. Michael Kaufmann, from the Ontario Medical Association Physician Health Program, outlines in his publication The Five Fundamentals of Civility for Physicians. In it, he describes his favourite definition of civility from the U.S. based Institute for Civility in Government (and I would concur):

“Civility is about more than just politeness, although politeness is a necessary first step. It is about disagreeing without disrespect, seeking common ground as a starting point for dialogue about differences, listening past one’s preconceptions, and teaching others to do the same. Civility is the hard work of staying present even with those with whom we have deep-rooted and fierce disagreements. It is political in the sense that it is a necessary prerequisite for civic action. But it is political, too, in the sense that it is about negotiating interpersonal power such that everyone’s voice is heard, and nobody’s is ignored.”

The 5 fundamentals of civility he offers includes the following:

1) Respect others and yourself

2) Be aware

3) Communicate effectively

4) Take good care of yourself

5) Be responsible

Why discuss civility in the concept of an incompatible mentoring relationship? Unfortunately, sometimes we may allow stress, frustration and other external factors to make us less tolerant to characteristics and behaviours of others. In a relationship such as mentoring, it is always worthwhile to maintain a civil approach and explore alternatives if and when problems arise.

How to find and foster a mentoring relationship

As discussed last week, some excellent medical mentoring programs exist but they are limited to both specific locations and level of training. Often, people find their mentor organically and the relationship exists without a true ‘mentorship’ label. Although this type of mentorship has value, it may not allow for the benefits of a more structured program that outlines a clearer understanding of the frequency of contact, duration of the relationship, collective goals and guidelines such as confidentiality.

Mentoring – a greater purpose

In an attempt to bring together our discussion on mentorship, I wanted to close with a concept that really signifies the beauty of a mentoring relationship – purpose. One of our greatest purposes in life is to serve others. We can achieve this in many ways including volunteering, charity work, donating time, healing work, etc.

Yes, mentoring will benefit you, but the essence of the goal is to benefit the other person. By sharing your time, expertise, wisdom, dreams, goals, worries and other pieces of your world, you are giving to a greater life purpose.



Rick Warren’s TED Talk – A Life of Purpose

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