Saying Goodbye in Mentoring

saying goodbye in a mentoring relationshipMentoring relationships are powerful due to the level of trust that allows for meaningful life transforming conversations between a mentoree and his/her mentor. Just as there is a beginning to these relationships, so is there an end.  In professional mentoring programs, there is a process that pairs follow in bringing closure and this helps the pairs to deal with whatever feelings they may have in this process. In informal relationships, some pairs avoid this because they may be uncomfortable with saying goodbye, while others just drift off over time without any real explanation as to why. This can leave one of the partners with hurt feelings and anger.  

Bringing closure is really a further opportunity for growth on the part of both partners. From a mentoree perspective, it's an opportunity to review with your trusted mentor the areas of growth that have happened during your relationship.  It's also an opportunity to receive feedback on his/her experience of working with you--the highs and the challenges, what they've learned about themselves and what they've gained from you in being your mentor.   

From a mentor perspective, it's an opportunity to share your hopes and vision for your mentoree's future, to affirm the growth you've seen, gain feedback from your mentoree on his/her experience in being in this relationship with you and to share what you have gained in the process.

So how do you prepare for this conversation? Mentors should take the lead in proposing this discussion and it should be at least one session (possibly two or more depending on what arises in the first session). One way is to approach the mentoree in the following way: "We've been meeting for X period of time and I think it would be great for us to spend some time in sharing our experience of working together. This will give us an opportunity to give each other feedback on the experience, assess whether we need to make changes or whether, in fact, it's time to consider bringing closure to our mentoring relationship and possibly transitioning to more of a friendship."

Obviously, a mentor should not offer the possibility of continued friendship if that is not desired.  If that's the case, the mentor may simply say that priorities have changed and he/she has a need to bring closure to the relationship.

Having broached the subject of closure, there should be some structure provided on the discussion(s) to be had.  I would recommend the following:

  • Let's review how you've grown over this time
  • Let's discuss goals established and how well we accomplished them
  • Let's discuss goals not achieved and the reasons why and what to do next
  • Let's share the high point and the challenging moments in our relationship and what they tell us about our experience
  • Let's share feedback on what it was like to work with each other
  • Let's share our hopes and vision for each other moving forward
  • Do either one of us want to continue in a mentoring relationship? If yes, what changes, if any, should we make to continue to keep this relationship meaningful?
  • If either one of us doesn't want to continue the mentoring relationship, do we continue to communicate and how? What expectations would we each have in this new relationship?

If a mentor wishes to continue the relationship, I recommend that s/he inform the mentoree at the moment of that discussion that they indicate this but also add that they are comfortable with hearing that the mentoree may not wish to do so.  This gives the mentoree "permission" to say goodbye without being concerned about hurting the mentor's feelings.

If a mentor doesn't wish to continue and the mentoree does, I recommend that the mentor acknowledge the mentoree's desire and then share that they cannot meet that expectation at this time due to X reason.  The mentor may offer, instead, to be available for a question or time on occasion as a middle point between complete closure and being available on a limited basis.

Ultimately, the dynamics of the relationship will tweak all of what has been suggested above.  Sometimes both of the pair already have a sense that they want to continue, or not, based upon how the relationship has worked. The key point is to have this discussion so that closure is achieved. I have met several mentors and mentorees over the years who did not go through this process and are still bemoaning why the relationship ended without any discussion or reason given.

This is an important process in mentoring and is the final gift each of you can give to one another!

corporate mentoring training

Image Credit: ©

Topics: Mentors & Mentorees, Mentoring Best Practices