We base our assumptions on our experiences, and they determine how we see the world. The problem is that we then act on our assumptions and add our own meaning to them, even though they may not necessarily be valid. If we are off the mark, it compromises our relationships by affecting communication and adversely our level of trust.

It is important to continuously reexamine our own assumptions and check them out. Mentors and mentees both bring independent assumptions that guide their behavior. As a result, mentoring partners who operate under differing assumptions have a very difficult time managing expectations. The process of checking out assumptions establishes the basis for candid communication, builds trust, and enables the partners to reach shared understanding, all necessary and vital components of a mentoring relationship.

John couldn’t have been more disappointed when he heard that Mark, the Vice President of IT, had been assigned as his mentor. He didn’t believe that someone from IT was going to be able to help him learn how to raise his influence and leadership level.  John’s assumptions about Mark – what he thought he knew about him or assumptions about “IT-types” − could easily have upended the relationship.  Fortunately, John and Mark spent time getting to know each other and challenging the assumptions they both held about one another.

We all have our unique definition of a mentoring relationship. Sharing our assumptions prepares us for mentoring in an honest, forthright way. A good place to start is by asking yourself these questions and then engaging in honest conversation with your mentoring partner.

  • What assumptions are you holding about your role as a mentor partner?
  • What assumptions are you holding about your mentoring partner’s role?
  • What assumptions might your mentoring partner hold about your role?
  • What assumptions might your mentoring partner hold about her role in the relationship?

“We simply assume that the way we see things is the way they really are or the way they should be.  And our attitudes and behaviors grow out of these assumptions.” – Stephen R. Covey