How interpersonal dynamics impact mentee-perceived outcomes

Shier, M. L., Larsen-Halikowski, J., & Gouthro, S. (2020). Interpersonal Dynamics Shaping Positive Mentee and Mentor Relationships. Child and Adolescent Social Work Journal

Summarized by Ariel Ervin

Notes of Interest: 

  •  Despite the growing literature on mentoring, there’s still a lack of research on youth’s interests and priorities in mentoring, as well as the effectiveness and need for alternatives to bolster youth development outcomes (e.g. online mentoring)
  • This study examines how interpersonal dynamics affect mentee-perceived outcomes within a combined face-to-face and online mentoring program
  • Three themes arose from the qualitative data
    • Consistency (e.g. predictability & frequency of a mentoring relationship)
    • Mentor-led communication strategies (e.g. Mentors assigning tasks to their mentees in order to help mentee achieve their goals) 
    • Mutually satisfactory interpersonal exchanges (e.g. Being authentic and open)

Introduction (Reprinted from the Abstract)

Mentorship is an important aspect of adolescent development and upward social mobility. With high rates of relationship termination early on in the mentorship relationship, it is important to understand the interpersonal dynamics that contribute to successful mentee–mentor relationships to optimize outcomes for adolescent program participants. Utilizing a qualitative research design, this study interviewed mentors (n = 22) and mentees (n = 15) of a community-based support program for adolescent high school aged females in Toronto, Canada to identify aspects of the relationship that were perceived to contribute to its success. Utilizing inductive analytical techniques, respondents identified three broad themes of a successful mentor/mentee relationship. These included: consistency, mentor-led communication strategies, and mutually satisfactory interpersonal exchange. The findings identify areas for training and development of mentors when engaged with adolescent aged youth.


Implications (Reprinted from the Discussion)

Consistency, communication strategies, and qualities of interpersonal exchange have been previously described in the literature as essential aspects of mentoring relationships. However, the research findings here provide greater specificity of these dynamics, along with their interrelationship in supporting positive mentee-mentor interpersonal dynamics. For instance, previous research has identified how consistent contact contributes to a positive mentor–mentee relationship (Deutsch & Spencer, 2009; Spencer, 2006) capable of achieving desired developmental and psychosocial outcomes (Bayer et al., 2015; DuBois, Holloway, et al., 2002; DuBois, Neville, et al., 2002; Grossman & Rhodes, 2002; Herrera et al., 2007). In a study of school-based mentorship, relationships that met and communicated less frequently or met at the same time and place as other mentor–mentee pairs reported lower levels of relationship closeness (Bayer et al., 2015). In addition to consistency of contact, mentees from this study discussed that prospectively offering to provide additional support in times of need can endorse the mentor as a reliable support. This offer to be available outside of predetermined hours reflects the mentor’s willingness to “go the extra mile” for the mentee, which is significant for the development of trust (Dallos & Comley-Ross, 2005, p. 377). As mentorship is posited to generate positive outcomes partially through the enhancement of a youth’s working model of adult attachment relationships (Dallos & Comley-Ross, 2005), the reliability and consistency of the relationship in question is paramount.

Furthermore, by modelling communication strategies that help to establish goals and are encouraging of mentees, this can support enthusiasm and confidence in the mentee’s ability to achieve the goals that mentor–mentee pairs have set, which can help mentors to bolster mentee motivation. Mentors in this study also discussed the importance of seeking feedback from their mentee, aligning with theories of self-determination in youth development (Larson, 2006) as well as practices to lessen power differentials (Spencer, 2006). Collaboration on tasks has been found to aid in the achievement of mentorship outcomes (Hamilton & Hamilton, 1992, 2010; DuBois et al., 2011) but prior to this study, it was unclear if task assignment was a valued aspect from the mentee perspective. The interest that mentees expressed in receiving clear direction from their mentors has been illustrated (Dallos & Comley-Ross, 2005), but may surprise those who view mentorship within a self-determination lens (Larson, 2006). As directive support is presumed most beneficial within a close relationship (Larson, 2006) and with an understanding of the mentee’s unique goals and skills (Roberts & Birmingham, 2017), the relationship closeness at time of advice offered is of interest and should be considered.

Finally, effective interpersonal exchange is a significant driver of positive change on behalf of the mentee, and may generate an increased understanding of the mentee’s own emotions, while also increasing their understanding of others and improving self-esteem (Dallos & Comley-Ross, 2005). All of which are important developmental outcomes for children and youth when engaged in mentor–mentee relationships. Qualities of interpersonal exchange described by the respondents in this study have previously been demonstrated as significant to the success of a mentor–mentee relationship, particularly in relation to the subthemes of openness, flexibility, and the reduction of power differentials. As in the literature, openness was described as a way to foster greater sharing in the relationship, a sense of reciprocal support, and was often initiated by the mentor (Dallos & Comley-Ross, 2005; Spencer, 2006). Being flexible has been discussed as a tenet of a mentee-centered approach (Roberts & Birmingham, 2017). The importance of making the mentee comfortable within the sometimes awkward first meetings of a relationship is a novel finding within this study but aligns with a mentee-centered approach and may further be seen as an act to lessen power differentials. A novel quality that was postulated to hamper a relationship is ambiguity of intentions and purpose. This finding is aligned with self-determination theory, where clearly defined goals that are relevant to individual needs are thought to drive intrinsic motivation for learning (Deci & Ryan, 2000).



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