What if my mentee or coachee doesn’t get in touch

Mentor and mentee/Coach and Coachee training usually emphasises that the mentee/coachee should contact the mentor/coach to arrange the first formal meeting, if they have not set a date when introduced to each other. When the mentor/coach doesn’t hear anything from the mentee/coachee for a week or two, it poses a dilemma. Should they take the initiative and hence assume responsibility for arranging meetings, or should they give the mentee space and be patient? If they make first contact, they risk establishing a precedent that pushes the relationship towards more directive behaviours by the mentor, where the mentee abdicates their responsibilities for managing the relationship. If they hold back, they feel increasingly frustrated and let down – which also does not help to build rapport and mutual trust. They may assume all sorts of negative reasons why the mentee is holding back – for example, that they are not really committed to the mentoring programme, or that they don’t respect the mentor/coach.

In practice, of course, there may be all sorts of reasons why the mentee/coachee doesn’t get in touch. They may be ill, or immersed in a high priority project that gives them no time to think beyond urgent day-to-day tasks. Or they are over-awed by the mentor and reluctant to take up the mentor’s time – “My issues will seem so trivial to her”.

The longer both parties take to address the issue, the less likely the relationship is to take off. So what can the mentor/coach do? Here are some practical guidelines:

  1. Don’t panic and don’t take it personally. Give the mentee/coachee at least a couple of weeks’ grace before you think about taking the initiative
  2. Make the first reminder gentle. “Just wondering how you are getting on and when you’d like to get a date in the diary…”
  3. Offer the opportunity for a brief, informal chat within the next two weeks, so that you can gain an understanding of what’s going on for them in their work environment. This may be all the mentee/coachee is capable of in the context of their current workload – and it may be all they need until they have sufficient time out to think through how they are going to make best use of the mentoring/coaching opportunity. If you can, use these chats to explore the question: “What needs to change for you to be able to engage fully with the mentoring/coaching relationship?”
  4. Ask the mentee/coachee to send you a brief email every couple of weeks, outlining what is happening for them. This demonstrates that you are interested in them, but not wanting to impose on them. (So don’t make it sound like a “school report”!)
  5. Keep the programme manager updated about the situation and how you are managing it. Ask them for any feedback that will help you manage your own anxieties about the relationship.
  6. When and if the time is right, suggest putting a tentative date in the diary, on the basis that it’s OK to move it, if circumstances require
  7. Based on what the mentee/coachee has told you about the issues they would like to explore, send occasional snippets of information (for example, a link to a relevant article or to someone they find it helpful to connect with).

If, after all this, the mentee/coachee still doesn’t commit to a meeting, don’t take it as an affront. Do, however, set an expectation with them about how long is a reasonable period to put off meeting. When you reach that point, try to maintain a positive, supportive approach. For example: “Rather than put any more pressure on you at a difficult time, I suggest we step back from the mentoring/coaching relationship for the moment. When you are ready, just drop me an e-mail and we’ll start again. If at any time, you just need an informal chat, just let me know.”

While some mentees never get back in touch, many do. The likelihood of their doing so is much greater, if they feel that you have been concerned and caring, but have avoided putting them under pressure or making them feel guilty.

© David Clutterbuck, 2016

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