What are boundaries?

All relationships are defined by boundaries. Any healthy and productive relationship is that way because personal boundaries are respected by the parties involved. A personal boundary is a line that defines what is, and is not appropriate behavior according to each individual. In a career or professional mentoring relationship, boundaries are particularly important. In order to be successful in your match, it is necessary to define what may cause conflict or discomfort for those involved. If the boundaries of the mentoring relationship are too rigid, it can impair relationship development. However, if they are too loose, they can be misinterpreted and lead to someone feeling unappreciated, disappointed or frustrated with the experience.

Why are boundaries important to your mentoring relationship?

As a mentor or mentee, you are striving to build a professional friendship with one another as part of the LMMP. It is imperative that you discuss and make one another aware of the boundaries that are important to you within that relationship. If boundaries are clearly defined, it will be easier to focus on achieving the goals and objectives of the program, manage each other’s expectations, and help ensure that the commitment is met by everyone involved. Boundaries are also important because they allow both parties to outline what they are, and are not willing to do as part of the mentoring relationship – and this should be done as early on as possible.

Discussing Boundaries

One of the biggest boundaries that should be discussed is around expectations in terms of contact, and how often you are both comfortable being in touch with one another. Some important questions to consider can include: How much access do we have to each other? What is the limit to the amount of contact I feel is appropriate? Other conversations could include guidelines around confidentiality and discussing accountability with one another.

Another important thing to consider are an individual’s triggers. Everyone has their own list of topics, situations or behaviors that irritate them and cause them to react negatively. Take some time to consider your own triggers and then share them openly with one another. When this is done, the other person is able to understand what they could do that may bother the other person. This can help avoid a lot of frustration in your relationship. Some common examples of triggers include not showing up for meetings, cancelling visits last minute, being late for an appointment, not being prepared, multitasking or using a cell phone while meeting with another person, and lack of follow through on recommendations or suggestions.

  • Boundary Discussion Topics

    • Time commitment

    • Planning and preparation for meetings

    • Sharing of personal information

    • Sharing of professional information

    • Introductions to contacts or professional network

    • Availability

    • Preferred methods of contact

    • Breaking confidentiality

    • Accountability

    • Openness to suggestions or opinions

    • Triggers

Activity: Defining our Match - Boundaries & Expectations 

  • How much time can we both commit to the relationship, keeping in mind the minimum 2 hour commitment per month? What are our expectations surrounding follow through on meetings, and how much notice do we prefer if a meeting needs to be rescheduled?

  • Who will be responsible for reaching out to schedule meetings? What is the preferred method of contact? How long do each of us require to respond to attempts to schedule meetings? Will we confirm meetings with one another the day of? What is the best method for correspondence?

  • Who is responsible for planning and preparing for meetings, does and agenda need to be created for meetings and if so, who would be responsible for creating it?

  • How much personal information do I feel comfortable discussing within our mentoring relationship? Are there any topics I feel are out of bounds?

  • What can I share about my professional experiences? Are there parameters surrounding confidentiality in my job that will affect the amount I’m able to share in our match?

  • What needs to happen before I’m comfortable sharing or connecting the other person to contacts or helping them network?

  • How do we both define confidentiality? What will confidentiality mean in our mentoring relationship?

  • How do I respond to others when they provide me with constructive feedback? Am I open to hearing the suggestions and opinions of others? In our relationship, what is the best way for my mentoring partner to give their feedback respectfully?

  • If a boundary is crossed, or our expectation is not met – what is our process for resolving it?

  • What can we do to prevent the likelihood that boundaries will be crossed or expectations will not be met? (You might consider a check-in or check-out at each meeting where you provide one another with feedback)

What to do if a boundary is crossed in your mentoring relationship?

Sometimes, regardless of our best intentions, a boundary is crossed in a relationship. Some common examples of where boundaries are commonly crossed in mentoring can include feeling that confidentiality has been broken, inappropriate questions or discussions, and use of disrespectful language. If a boundary is crossed in your match, it is important to address it with each other promptly.

  1. Let the other person know that a boundary has been crossed, and refer to the contract you signed at the beginning of the match.

  2. Describe what behaviors you feel crossed the boundary, and ask that the other person stop those behaviors.

  3. If the other party confirms or acknowledges their behavior, thank them for their understanding.

  4. If they go unacknowledged, and the behavior continues, contact your Program Coordinator.

Tim Ambrose
Alumni Outreach Coordinator, Advancement & Alumni
(519) 452-4430 x 3940


The Mentor’s Guide, Lois J. Zachary, Copyright 2000

The Mentee’s Guide, Lois J. Zachary, Copyright 2009