Mentorships can be some of the most important relationships that we have in our lives, but the borders around them can get murky sometimes. Being as though it is one of the key components to our existence, we at MicroMentor want to explore this topic a bit more. Are mentors friends? Should they be friends?
First Ask Yourself These Questions ...
To begin, it’s important to first do an assessment of the current relationships you have in your life.
- What are your current friendships like?
- Do your friends hold you to a high standard?
- Do they challenge you to be the best version of yourself?
- Do they listen without judgement and offer valuable advice?
If you answered yes to any of these questions, then being friends with your mentor may happen naturally because the current relationships that you have already encompass some of the components of mentorship. In fact, you might even benefit from selecting a mentor you already have a friend-like relationship with!
However, not everyone has those types of relationships. This may be true for a variety of reasons.
Perhaps you prefer to keep your friends and career separate, or you don’t appreciate receiving feedback from people within your circle. If that’s the case, then the combination of a mentor and a friend might not be beneficial.
But let’s focus more on the question of whether or not mentors should be friends, because it’s a complicated and important question to ask.
First of all, as is probably already evident, this line does get crossed all the time, and often with very positive results. But, because it’s always important to look at both sides of an issue, let’s first look at some of the possible negative effects of becoming friends with your mentor.
“Personal feelings can make it difficult to remain objective.”
Have you ever gotten into an argument with a friend because you thought that they were making a bad choice? Did you yell at them or maybe even freeze them out because you thought they were wrong?
This might sound harsh, but unfortunately this can happen when we care about someone, and we’re upset by a choice that they make.
While learning to control our own feelings during constructive conversations is an important skill to have, it is especially important for a mentor to be able to provide reasoned and calm responses when a mentee makes a questionable decision. If the mentor and mentee are friends, it may be difficult to remain calm and objective.
“Friendship may affect how honest someone is comfortable with being.”
Another way personal feelings can negatively affect a mentor relationship is that it may create less room for honesty.
When friendship becomes intertwined, the mentor may think about how their thoughts or feedback could possibly make their “friend” feel rather than their “mentee”. This happens out of fear of hurting or offending the other party. Of course, mentor relationships should always be based in mutual respect, but that doesn’t mean that some critique or feedback might not be difficult to hear. A friendship could make a mentor reluctant to address certain matters.
"Personal opinions could create a fear of judgement"
Because of the above issues, mentees may also be hesitant to share information out of a fear of judgement, which is beneficial to neither party because then there is no mentoring taking place. Mentees should feel comfortable discussing everything with their mentors, and that comfort could be harmed if the relationship loses its professional aspect.
Now that we’ve discussed the possible downsides to being friends with your mentor, let’s look at the upside! Funnily enough, the pros and cons are fairly similar.
“Familiarity can make mentorship more effective.”
Just as having a personal relationship can be detrimental to a mentorship, it can also have the reverse effect!
Remember when we asked what kind of friendships you have? Well, if you are used to having honest, thought-provoking conversations with your friends, then having a friendship with your mentor may actually be helpful!
Having a mentor who already is, or becomes, your friend means that they will become familiar with other parts of who you in addition to your professional life. They would be able to offer you personalized feedback, which may be better than the feedback from a more detached mentor.
“Mentorship can exceed professional boundaries.”
Also, although we speak about mentoring in a more professional sense, mentorship is multi-faceted! A mentor can also help you with other areas in your life if the relationship allows it (spiritual, health, personal development, financial etc.).
The key to remember here is that the most important thing is trust. You trust your mentor to give you sound advice about your business because you know that they are experienced and want to help you succeed.
Most good mentor-mentee relationships turn into life-long friendships. This is not to say that you have to go to that extent with business mentoring. You may be looking for help solely with your career, and that is completely ok. But, if you're open to expanding that type of relationship, you never know what other great advice that your mentor turned friend may have to offer.
Here's What's Most Important
Ultimately, what is most important when you have a mentor is that you lay down clear guidelines and expectations with them as soon as the two of you decide to pursue the relationship. This is essential (whether you are already friends or not). Having honest conversations and asking lots of questions can ensure that you are both comfortable with each other’s boundaries so that you can have the most productive and enriching relationship possible.
A final note on this issue is that relationships can change. An important element of having a relationship with a mentor is having regular check-ins. This is a great time to discuss any thoughts or concerns surrounding the relationship. Perhaps you initially didn’t want to expand to friendship but changed your mind a few years in. Or maybe you decide things should stay strictly professional until the mentorship comes to an end (if it’s time limited). Changing your mind is completely acceptable, as long as you remain honest and open.
So, can mentors be friends? Absolutely! But whether that’s the right choice for your specific situation is entirely up to you.