Five stages of mentoring relationship development: Stage 2 – Initiation

Initiation is the second stage of a mentoring relationship between the mentor and mentee.

This series from Michigan State University Extension explores the five stages of relationship development. Following the contemplation stage, many youth and adults will enter the initiation stage of mentoring. The initiation stage involves applying to the mentoring program, completing screening and training and, finally, being matched with a mentor or mentee. This first meeting between mentor and mentee can be exciting and nerve-wracking. Program staff and parents can help make this phase more comfortable by discussing expectations and ensuring they are realistic.

Some researchers describe this stage as the “courtship” or “fantasy” stage. In this stage, the individuals involved work hard to present the best version of themselves. They might try to avoid conflicts at all costs. They use their best manners, avoid controversial topics and try to portray themselves in the best manner possible. This is not very different than human behavior in any new relationship. Later in the initiation stage, mentors and mentees will begin to experiment a little more. When two people reach this stage in their relationship, they are working to reduce their uncertainty about each other. They might begin to test the limits of their relationship, showing their true colors to see if the other person is committed to sticking around.

We tend to have certain rules about what should and should not happen at the beginning of a relationship. As two people grow more comfortable with one another, they relax and present less perfect versions of themselves. It is helpful for matches to take time early in the relationship to complete a few tasks:

  • Introductions. Mentor and mentee should share their interests and begin to share information.
  • Define goals. Matches should have a conversation about why they are in the program and what they hope to gain from the relationship.
  • Begin setting boundaries. People feel safest in relationships when they understand boundaries. To begin the conversation, you may choose to share your pet peeves with each other.

The initiation stage is a relatively short phase of the mentoring relationship, but the first impressions made during this period can be lasting. Make a strong impression by showing up on time, communicating effectively and having some level of excitement about the experience. Mentors should plan to take the lead during the first meetings and slowly build the trust needed to enter the growth and maintenance stage.

The next article in this series will explore growth and maintenance, the third stage of development in mentoring relationships.

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