Five stages of mentoring relationship development: Stage 1 – Contemplation

Contemplation is the first sage of a mentoring relationship between the mentor and mentee.

While no two relationships develop in the exact same way, mentoring relationships tend to follow five stages: contemplation, initiation, growth and maintenance, decline and dissolution, and redefinition. Michigan State University Extension recommends volunteers and youth learn about the five stages of relationship development in mentoring prior to being matched. This helps all parties develop more realistic expectations prior to entering the relationship. It’s important to note that in real life, two people don’t often neatly progress through relationship stages. They may skip steps, move backward or frequently flip-flop between two stages. There is also no timeline for when relationships should progress – matches need to move at a rate that is comfortable for the mentor and mentee.

During the first stage, contemplation, the potential mentor or mentee considers entering a mentoring program. During this stage, interested parties learn about the program and determine whether it is a good fit. They begin to picture themselves in the role of mentor or mentee and decide if they want to proceed. If they do, this stage continues through the application, screening and training process. Volunteers, youth, parents and guardians will then begin to form expectations for the match. This is a time for planning and considering what the relationship will look like.

Often times, mentors receive more information and training than young people during this stage. This can help them set realistic expectations. Young people sometimes receive less pre-match orientation and training and have the potential for staying in this stage for a significant time as waiting lists for mentors can be long. Parents and mentoring staff can ease nerves during this stage by talking about the expected timeline and providing answers to the young person’s questions.

It is important to recognize that mentors or mentees may have feelings of excitement or anxiety during the contemplation stage. This is normal. Meeting your new mentor or mentee can be compared to starting a new job or meeting the family of a significant other for the first time. In both of these cases, you are embarking on a new experience and want to make a good impression. You are vulnerable and may be hopeful or concerned depending on your past experiences. There will likely be some nervousness until the match is made and this stage ends. At this point, the initiation stage begins.

The next article in this series will explore initiation, the second stage of development in mentoring relationships.

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