In Ndalo Media CEO Khanyi Dhlomo’s last Live Chat on 17 September, a reader said her relationship with her mentor came to an end after a major fall out. The reader is now looking for another mentor to guide her.

This is not unique to the reader since in reality conflict may arise in any relationship, including a mentorship relationship. Adjunct faculty member at the Gordon Institute of Business Science and human resources management and leadership development expert, Buyani Zwane, says conflict is a good thing because it tests the strength of relationships. But that being said, a mentorship relationship should have a long-term perspective and the lasting outcomes of the relationship should always be kept in mind from the start.

“Such relationships require an interplay of courage and consideration between the parties. When these two variables are high, the outcome is invariably mutually beneficial for the parties involved.”

Going further, he says this would require both parties to have mutual respect and the maturity to be able to give and receive both guidance and criticism. And both mentor and mentee would need to demonstrate “unquestionable integrity towards each other and the outcome they seek to achieve”.

“With the above in place, whenever conflict arises between mentor and mentee, whoever feels ‘aggrieved’ should open up and refer to the initial objective of obtaining mutually beneficial outcomes,” Zwane says.

He suggests the pair should revisit the core reasons they got into a mentorship relationship in the first place so as not to get sidetracked.

Whenever conflict arises between mentor and mentee whoever feels ‘aggrieved’ should open up…

While mentors are usually older and more experienced than the mentee, they should also be determined to learn from the person they are mentoring. The mentor should be an empathetic listener, advises Zwane. “That means subordinating the desire to give answers and judgment in discussions. Autobiographical listening is common with the experienced mentor pouring out their experience to the mentee. Hold back.

“With all the experience ‘in the bag’ the mentor would be expected to read the situation, and facilitate at the beginning and close of each engagement a check-in and check-out process to ensure that they are not going through the motions and meeting because they are ‘required’ to by whoever may have formalised the relationship,” he says.

Sharing his experience with his own mentor, the late American educator, author and businessman Dr Stephen R Covey, who defined leadership as “communicating to people their worth and potential so clearly they come to see it in themselves”, Zwane says he learnt a lot.

“Dr Covey communicated my worth every time we met and unleashed the potential within me to seek to bring out a better version of me. I seek to provide the same to those I am privileged to guide and mentor towards greatness.”

Zwane encourages mentors to take the approach of a servant leader when dealing with those they mentor. “Thus it would be appropriate to ask such servant leadership questions as: how is it going now? What are you/or have you been learning? What are your goals going forward? How can I help you? And, crucially, how am I doing as a helper?”

He says these questions will keep both mentor and mentee grounded and mutually accountable for enabling significant breakthroughs through mentorship. If conflict occurs, it should be handled maturely as part of an evolving relationship.