Facilitating learning in practice
Facilitating learning in practice

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Facilitating learning in practice

4 Potential conflict in mentoring relationships

In any relationship there is always the potential for conflict or relational breakdown, and mentoring is not excluded from these problems. Ensher and Murphy (2011) describe this as ‘the dark side’ of the mentoring relationship, and list a range of behaviours on the part of both the mentor and the mentee that can contribute to such conflict (Table 3).

Table 3 The ‘dark side’ of mentoring (adapted from Ensher and Murphy, 2011)

Negative behaviours of mentors Negative behaviours of students





Betraying trust

Damaging reputation

Ignoring mentor advice

Being ungrateful

Activity 5 Identifying workplace-specific examples of these negative behaviours

Allow 15 minutes

Drawing on your own experiences within the workplace/practice environment, recall any situations that you have observed or comments that you have heard that could represent examples of negative behaviours.


Here are some examples drawn from the academic literature and from our experiences in nursing to illustrate these behaviours.


  • Bullying:
    • Constantly correcting a student’s performance in front of patients, undermining the student’s confidence and subsequently impacting on ability and competence.
    • Always sending the student off to carry out tasks that will not contribute to learning about nursing care, such as cleaning the sluice or taking specimens to the laboratory.
  • Jealousy:
    • Failing to answer questions from the student because no one answered your questions when you were a student. Why should it be any different for students today?
  • Abuse:
    • Blaming a student for not carrying out an intervention when there hadn’t been an opportunity for this to take place. For example, asking a student to carry out an observation and then criticising the student for not recording the intervention within one minute of the initial request.
  • Neglect:
    • Deliberately ignoring any attempt by the student to introduce themselves by failing to make eye contact and walking away when they speak.
    • Failing to arrange informal meetings with your student to provide an opportunity for feedback and reflective learning.


  • Betraying trust:
    • Having been assessed as competent by the mentor, failing to practise in a way that demonstrates this competence and therefore calling into question the trust that the mentor has placed in the student.
  • Damaging reputation:
    • When challenged by another registered nurse about the way in which an intervention is being carried out, responding by saying, ‘Well that’s how my mentor taught me,’ knowing full well that it wasn’t.
    • Telling another student who has been allocated to the same mentor how awful the mentor is: ‘Hopeless at teaching and doesn’t know what she’s doing.’
  • Ignoring mentor advice:
    • Insisting a service user has breakfast at their bedside instead of walking to the dining room, as the mentor advised, because the service user is so slow and it will take far too long.
  • Being ungrateful:
    • Not appreciating the time the mentor has taken to arrange an additional learning experience with a colleague in another practice area and failing to turn up.
    • Failing to say ‘Thank you’ for support and advice offered either during or at the end of the practice learning experience.

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