Challenging situations

In the mentoring process, things not always run smoothly. Challenging situations can occur. Here are some tips and hints how to handle such situations.

Put the mentee at ease…

  • Stay calm (take a deep breath)
  • Use body language to communicate attentiveness/openness
  • Let the mentee do the talking (‘letting off steam’)
  • Avoid judgmental statements such as ‘Why would you do something like that?’
  • Be honest of you are getting emotional and/or upset

Honor the mentee’s right to self-determination…

  • Try paraphrasing what the mentee is saying
  • Focus on the mentee’s feelings and needs rather than the content of his/her messages
  • Avoid jumping to problem solving before having identified/understood the problem
  • When the issue has been identified/understood, as ‘What would you like to do about this situation?’ or ‘How would you like me to help?’
  • Encourage critical thinking through questions and reflection
  • If what the menthe wants to do is not possible, explain so gently. Ask what alternative solutions would make the mentee feel comfortable
  • Brainstorm with menthe and be creative in finding a solution (there is usually more than one way to solve a situation)
  • Use the words ‘I don’t know’ and ‘What do you think?’

Problem solving…

  • Put safety first (if necessary seek help)
  • Know what your mentor role entails
  • Make clear if boundaries have been crossed
  • Be honest if confidentiality does no longer hold (e.g. when you need to report a situation)
  • Get support from another mentor and/or the module leader
  • Do  not walk away before there is a clear conclusion to the situation (which can be simply the agreement on a next meeting)

When dealing with challenging situations, be aware that a mismatch between a mentor and a menthe can occur. The mismatch may result from conflicting personalities, different ideas/beliefs/goals or different areas of expertise. Fortunately, the mismatch is usually discovered early in the relationship by the mentor, the mentee or both – and is therefore relatively simple corrected by either switching the mentor or the mentee to a different mentoring group. Inform your module leader.

Last but not least… When dealing with difficult situations it is important that you look after yourself. If you are in a good mental and physical shape you will be more able to handle stressful situations – so it is important to look after yourself on an ongoing basis, including achieving a good study/work/life balance by building in relaxation, fun activities, healthy meals and resting hours.

What mentors said when presented with the following challenging scenarios:

Scenario I: Your mentoring group is always late. Ten minutes after the start of every session you have, at best, one person in the room. It seems always to take twenty minutes for half the group to appear… and every time another student comes in, the door bangs loudly behind them. Some mentees even leave the door wide open and every time this happens you feel that have to get up and go over to close the door so that everyone in the session can be heard. It seems that you will never get to start a session on time… What is your reaction?


IMG_7234 IMG_7235

Scenario H: You have a mentoring group that seems to have a split personality – about half of the mentees appear interested, they pay attention and they engage with the activities that you introduce. The other half plays with their phones, paint their finger nails and chat at low, but audible, volume and apparently not about the session that you are running. The engaged students appear to be getting more and more frustrated with this state of affairs. You see them get frustrated, angry and disappointed. What is your reaction?



Scenario G: You have been working with your mentee(s) for about four weeks – mainly on study skills. You are meeting with your mentee(s) today and as you begin your session, one of them says: ‘I have something difficult to talk about with you. I don’t know how to express this but I think that these mentoring sessions are not working, at least not for me’. What is your reaction?



Scenario E: You are in a mentoring session having a discussion. Suddenly one of the mentees leaps up, furious with you – he/she shouts and you think he/she might get violent – with you or one of the others present. The other students are looking terrified… What is your reaction?



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