Rock Valley College

Dealing with Difficult Mentoring Situations

Addressing Difficult Mentoring Situations

Throughout the mentoring process it is normal to expect that you may be presented with a difficult or challenging situation. Although addressing conflict is often uncomfortable for many, facing it head-on is important for maintaining focus and preventing escalation into more serious situations.  Because mentors are in the “leader” role, it is expected that they initiate steps to resolve the issue and try to preserve the mentoring relationship. 

One of the first steps in addressing a difficult situation is making the determination whether the situation is one of low- level or high-level difficulty.  Situations of low-level difficulty are generally able to be resolved by the mentor, whereas those of high-level difficulty may require support from a supervisor or another campus resource with the training, skill, and authority to handle such situations.  Regardless of the situation, it is important to keep in mind safety, security, and confidentiality at all times.

Although most students will seek out mentoring support for general and routine academic issues, others may need assistance with more serious or involved situations.  Some situations that would be considered more difficult may involve:

  • Mental health issues (ex., depression, suicidal ideation, anxiety, etc.)
  • Cultural or ethnic difficulties
  • Cheating, plagiarism, or other academic dishonesty
  • Sexual identity issues
  • Alcohol or substance abuse
  • Sexual harassment or violence
  • Personal hygiene issues
  • Challenges related to a disability

The first step in attempting to resolve any problem or situation is to get to the root of it.  Many times the challenges and frustrations that manifest on the surface are actually a result of a deeper-seeded issue.  Once the source of the problem is identified, work can begin on figuring out a plan for moving forward.  To facilitate the resolution process, it may be helpful to ask:

  • What is the problem or issue?
  • How frequently does the problem occur?
  • Have previous attempts been made to try to solve the problem? If so, what happened?
  • Do others appear to have the same problem?
  • What actions or strategies have been successful in the past? What didn’t work?
  • Who can help with solving the problem? What resources are available to help?

Mentors who are inexperienced in working with students who have disabilities may naturally feel a certain level of uncertainty in how to address particular situations.  This is normal, and it is important to realize that a little bit of education and training can go a long way towards restoring one's confidence.  The DSS office can provide assistance and support to mentors who are working with students with disabilities and who desire to learn more about how to effectively work with this group of students.   Please contact the DSS office at (815) 921-2371.