We all have so much to do and so little time to do it. Those time crunches are a major enemy of caring for our mentor relationships. Our mentor relationships often find their way to being the one thing on our “to do” list that we never quite get to. Before you know it, weeks or even months have slipped away without contact with your mentor. Soon emotion creeps in. We are embarrassed that we went so long without calling our mentor. Maybe we missed our next scheduled e-mail or call. That embarrassment can paralyze us from reaching out again. Excuses are easy to come by. “I was busy with ‘important’ things.” “Well, it’s not like my mentor called me either.”
At this point in an informal mentor relationship you may be tempted to walk away from the relationship. But walking away means giving up all benefits that drew you to the mentor relationship to begin with. It also means giving up on the investment of time and energy you already invested into the relationship. In a formal program you may not be able to walk away without either failing program requirements or at a minimum offering some sort of explanation to the program administrators.
A better approach is to take the necessary steps to reconnect with your mentor. So how do you do that? There area a couple easy steps to reconnecting with your mentor if you let the relationship go a bit. As an additional benefit, these same steps work well with any of the inevitable mistakes you will make practicing law.
The first step to reconnecting is to overcome your negative emotions that are causing you to procrastinate. Why delay any longer in calling your mentor? Ask yourself whether it will be any easier to make the call tomorrow. Inevitably that answer is no. It will be uncomfortable to make the call today but it will just be one day more uncomfortable to do it tomorrow.
Step two is to call your mentor to reconnect rather than e-mail. Remember, the relationship is already feeling disconnected. E-mail is impersonal and tends to re-enforce that the mentor relationship is disconnect. Further, it you need to do some work to reconnect, you are really seeking to create conversation to rekindle connection. At best an e-mail “conversation” is a long drawn out affair that may take days. At worst it is too tedious to really create conversation and it gets cut short. Phone, on the other hand, creates instant connection. You can hear your mentor’s voice and instantly create the conversation that needs to happen.
Step three; take responsibility for what has happened. Once your mentor is one the phone, apologize for the lack of communication and take responsibility for your role in the failure to connect. It is hard to admit and to accept our failures. On the other hand, there is no mentor out there who has not made a mistake himself. Most of the challenges to mentor communication are things your mentor has experienced himself. Taking responsibility tends to diffuse anger and disappointment. It also helps open the door to making this a learning experience rather than a true failure. When we apologize and take responsibility we are acknowledging that we want things to be different in the future. We open ourselves to hearing from the mentor what he may have learned from similar experiences in his past. You may learn some new strategies for addressing the underlying time crunches that caused the relationship to go astray to begin with.
Once you have taken responsibility and apologized, it is time to employ some strategies to get the relationship back on track. During your conversation with your mentor be sure to set a next in person meeting date. It is easy to forget a phone call or e-mail that is owed, but it is rare to forget an in person appointment. Going forward, make it policy to never leave one appointment without having the next one set.
Finally, now that you have reconnected you need to follow through on improving how you conduct the relationship. All of these strategies for reconnecting mean nothing if you do not actually improve how you conduct yourself going forward. You get one chance to reconnect. Letting the relationship slip once is recoverable. Doing it twice sends the clear message that you are not serious about the relationship. Why would a mentor want to invest his time if you are not investing yours?