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Managing Mentoring Challenges

No matter how long you've been a mentor, there will be challenges and situations that are new to you. Consider the following tips on how to manage these situations.

Mentoring across differences: race, culture, gender, and generation:

  • Make no assumptions:
    • Resist viewing each other as part of a category based on gender, race, age, or other characteristics.
  • Have an open discussion about cultural differences:
    • Have a basic level of respect for differences and the value of understanding and appreciating differences.
    • After time, there may be sufficient comfort to discuss differences in gender, culture, and generation.
  • Understand culturally different values:
    • Be willing to learn about your mentee's world and be open to his/her perspective.
  • Publicly support the mentee:
    • Invite mentee as a colleague to meetings and events.
    • Introduce mentee to colleagues and peers.
    • Coach mentee in graceful self-promotion.

Maintaining effective communication and giving constructive feedback is key to establishing a good relationship with your mentee.

  • Ask clear questions to understand the mentee's experience, assessment of the situation, and point of view.
  • Use specific, non-judgmental, descriptive language:
    • Use "I" statements. Give examples from your experience.
    • Focuses on specific behaviors, areas for growth, development and enhancement.
  • Acknowledge outside factors that may contribute.
  • Reassure mentee strengths and assets.
  • Ensure understanding by summarizing.
  • Give the other person an opportunity to ask questions or share their viewpoint.
  • Allow time and privacy for feedback.
  • Avoid or minimize distractions, set aside an uninterrupted time for your feedback session.
  • Try not to interrupt when the other person is responding.
  • Ask questions that will lead to self-reflection:
    • What is a step you can take to reach your desired outcome?
    • What are some ways you can address this challenge?
    • What resources are available to you?
    • What can I do to help you?

Problem-solving strategies are useful in any situation. When the mentoring relationship needs improvement, both mentor and mentee have the responsibility to have an open conversation regarding this.


  • Early intervention is important.
  • Identify an appropriate space and time for discussion.
  • Specify needs clearly.
  • Be flexible in ways of handling the problem.
  • Develop a solution that works for both the mentor and the mentee.
  • Transparency on both sides is important.