Mentoring v Friendship – how best to avoid blurring the lines

Posted on July 25, 2018

With World Friendship Day taking place this month, we’re exploring the difference between mentoring and friendship. Here our mentor, Martin Dewar discusses the importance of trust and how best to avoid the line between mentor and friend becoming blurred. 

Mentor versus Friend – By Martin Dewar

I’ve been lucky enough to be a mentor for more than ten years, in a variety of guises, and with a range of mentees who needed support for different reasons and in diverse ways.

From that very first meeting, trust, and the ease to speak freely that it provides, are key to the effectiveness of the mentoring process. Thanks to the hard work of the staff at Project Scotland, being matched with the right person is something that we, as mentors don’t have to worry about. But it is really important by the end of that first meeting, you both feel you’ve been matched with someone with whom you can start to build trust.

When are you a friend? When are you a mentor? The personal connection you will (hopefully) make with your mentee sits these roles dangerously close together, with only a fine border separating them. 

The difference between the two however, is in what the mentee needs from the relationship. Yes, they need trust and support, but while a friend will suggest a clear direction (or what they think you should do), a mentor shares their experiences and advice to help the mentee explore their own path and identify their own next steps. The danger of judgement should be largely absent from a mentor in comparison to a friend, while mentoring offers more of an opportunity to provide constructive criticism without offending.

An element of friendship is always present within mentoring. We’re human beings after all. I’ve had mentees who needed a friend as much as a mentor. And I’ve had mentees who have gone on to become a friend after the process is finished. But the two roles, whilst similar, need to be different during the process. 

For me, the first meeting is where things are defined. It’s there that you will hear about them for the first time, and them about you. But it’s also where you explain the parameters of your role as a mentor. It’s where you can outline what you are there to do to support them, as well as what you’re not. Getting an understanding of the role from the beginning is vital, for both of you.

In my experience as a mentor, there is a time to listen, a time to signpost, and a time to be firm. 

Often you are a mentee’s first port of call – the time to listen and share your experiences to help where you can. If you feel what they need is beyond your comfort zone, then you are going to need additional help – now comes the time to signpost to experts or services. And from time to time you might find your role as a mentor becomes blurred, and the boundaries need to be re-established – which is the perfect time to be firm.

One of the most challenging things about mentoring, which is also the most rewarding, is that there is no black and white. In the same way that every mentee is different, so is every mentor. Your journey each time is different as a result. How you work together is something that needs to be established and developed over time, as that trust builds. But making sure that your mentee, and you in fact, understand the role that you will play, remains the same. Establish that, and you’ll both get even more out of your mentoring relationship.