Preparing, negotiating, enabling, and coming to closure are part of every mentoring relationship, formal and informal. Awareness of the phases is a key factor in successful mentoring relationships. When they are taken for granted or skipped over, they can have a negative impact on the relationship. Simply being aware of them provides significant signposts.
Movement through the four phases follows a fluid yet predictable cycle, and usually has some overlap between phases. Thus, during the enabling phase, when mentoring partners are most likely to face potential obstacles (perhaps a geographical move), they may need to renegotiate aspects of their mentoring partnership agreement in order to move forward and maintain the relationship.
Each mentoring relationship is unique. So each time a new mentoring relationship begins, both mentor and mentee must prepare individually and in partnership.
Tilling the soil before planting can involve a number of processes (Piercy, 1982): fertilizing, aerating, cultivating, plowing, and so on. Similarly in the preparing phase of a mentoring relationship, a variety of processes take place. Mentors explore personal motivation and their readiness to be a mentor. They assess their mentoring skills to identify areas for their own learning and development. Clarity about both expectation and role is essential for establishing a productive mentoring relationship.
Preparing is also a discovery process. The mentor evaluates the viability of the prospective mentor-mentee relationship. A prospecting conversation with the mentee assists in making that determination. This initial conversation then sets the tone for the relationship.
Successfully completing the negotiating phase is like planting the seeds that lead to the fruition of the mentoring relationship. Planting seeds in well-cultivated soil produces growth. Negotiating is the business phase of the relationship-the time when mentoring partners come to agreement on learning goals and define the content and process of the relationship.
Negotiating is not as simple as drawing up an agreement. A key part is the conversation that leads up to it, when the ground rules for moving the relationship forward are developed. The negotiating phase has more to do with creating a shared understanding about assumptions, expectations, goals, and needs than actually putting a formal agreement in writing. It involves talking about some of the soft issues in a relationship-topics like confidentiality, boundaries, and limits, which often are left out of mentoring conversations because the partners find these issues difficult to talk about. Although some individuals are concerned that such a discussion undermines trust, it actually lays a solid foundation for building trust.
Another way of describing the negotiating phase is "the detail phase." This is when the details of when and how to meet, responsibilities, criteria for success, accountability, and bringing the relationship to closure are mutually articulated.
The enabling phase takes longer to complete than the other three phases since this phase is the implementation phase of the learning relationship, when most of the contact between mentoring partners takes place. It is complex. Although it offers the greatest opportunity for nurturing learning and development, the mentoring partners are also most vulnerable to myriad obstacles that can contribute to a derailment of the relationship.
Even when goals are clearly articulated, the process well defined, and the milestones identified, every relationship must find its own path. The enabling phase is a process of path building: maintaining a sufficient level of trust to develop the quality of the mentoring relationship and promote learning. Effective communication is key.
The mentor's role during this phase is to nurture the mentee's growth by establishing and maintaining an open and affirming learning climate and providing thoughtful, timely, candid, and constructive feedback. Both the mentor and mentee monitor the learning progress and the learning process to ensure that the mentee's learning goals are being met.
Coming to Closure
Coming to closure is an evolutionary process that has a beginning (establishing closure protocols when setting up a mentoring agreement), a middle (anticipating and addressing obstacles along the way), and an end (ensuring that there has been positive learning, no matter what the circumstances). All three components are necessary for satisfactory closure.
A relationship may start out splendidly, with the mentoring partners respecting each other, sharing mutual interests, and developing good rapport. Suddenly the spark goes out. When this happens, mentors often find that working their way back through the phases enables them to evaluate and refashion a stalled relationship into a productive and mutually satisfying experience. Being aware of signals that indicate it is time for closure helps to ensure a timely and positive closure.
Closure involves evaluating, acknowledging, and celebrating achievement of learning outcomes. Mentors, as well as mentees, can benefit from closure. When closure is seen as an opportunity to evaluate personal learning and apply that learning to other relationships and situations, mentors leverage their own learning and growth and reap the full harvest of the relationship.
1 Compiled by Robert Starks, UI Graduate Assistant, from Lois J. Zachary. The Mentor’s Guide: Facilitating Effective Learning Relationships.