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I have been mentoring a colleague for about 8 months, at the request of management. She showed initial improvement but has plateaued and we will soon be having a "reset" meeting to assess the mentoring relationship and set new goals.

One area where we've made little to no progress is her professionalism. Specifically, she has trouble separating her personal relationships and personal demeanor from her work relationships and an appropriate work demeanor. HR is in the loop, and I am working closely with them. My mentoring is part of their plan to course-correct and address these issues.

In our upcoming reset meeting, I want to highlight professionalism as a key area for us to work on, but given her tendency to view constructive feedback as a personal attack or betrayal, I am worried about how to politely address it. Are there nicer words I can use?

Edit:

Examples were left out to be brief, but happy to elaborate. She has a tendency to gossip, to over-share and ask prying questions, and to question whether her tasks are "her job."Her business writing skills could also use work, but I think that will just take some time and a certain pride in her work that is lacking right now. Most of the time she delivers on the tasks she is given, but often her supervisors do not entrust her with work that someone else at her same level would normally be given.

Gossip: She has intimated to me that some colleagues were having an affair. I told her I had no wish to speculate on it and shut the conversation down, but I doubt I am the only person she said that to.

Over-sharing: giving extraneous details about her time management, health, personal life, etc in office-wide emails. Things that might be okay to share in a one on one conversation with someone you have a close working relationship with, but not 120 people over email. Like "I'm exhausted and my back still hurts so i need to go to the doctor." Etc.

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    In what ways is she unprofessional? – AndreiROM May 5 '16 at 19:59
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    How she accepts criticism itself needs to be addressed. If she can't accept criticism without seeing it as an attack, I don't see how she can be helped. That should be a starting point of the "reset" in my opinion. – Chris E May 5 '16 at 20:23
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    @mariecc13 again, you should give examples, can you paraphrase some of her gossip over sharing or prying? this helps the community evaluate the issue on it's own without having to accept that what she said was wrong and not just overreaction on your/your company part – RenaissanceProgrammer May 5 '16 at 20:39
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    @RenaissanceProgrammer How much more do you need? Some gossip, over sharing or prying would be professional? – paparazzo May 5 '16 at 20:48
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    Gossip: She has intimated to me that some colleagues were having an affair. I told her I had no wish to speculate on it and shut the conversation down, but I doubt I am the only person she said that to. Over-sharing: giving extraneous details about her time management, health, personal life, etc in office-wide emails. Things that might be okay to share in a one on one conversation with someone you have a close working relationship with, but not 120 people over email. Like "I'm exhausted and my back still hurts so i need to go to the doctor." Etc. – mariecc13 May 5 '16 at 20:51
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You're her mentor, not her friend. If this person has a hard time separating personal from professional feedback she's in for a world of hurt in her career.

Have a list of hard facts and examples ready, and dive in. Don't be purposefully mean, however there's no need to sugarcoat things either. In fact, it might be better if you don't.

In the workplace, if you screw up on a project your boss will typically tell you as much. There need be no personal bad blood - it's just metrics and facts. Better that she get that from you now, rather than find out later, the much harder way.

The way I'm reading your post, you seem to be getting ready to step on egg shells as it were. You know she's not going to take this well, and you're worried about her feelings/reaction. However, if you were required to asses her on behalf of a manager, not knowing that she would see this report you would simply be honest and to the point, right? Why treat her differently to her face?


Edit based on OP's comments:

Wow, she sounds like a bit of a problem employee.

  • Sub-par written communications

This is definitely something that you need to address, probably by offering examples of her poorly written e-mails alongside a well written one and asking her to consider the difference.

  • "Not my job"

It's dumbfounding how many people simply can't understand this:

Your job is whatever your boss says it is.

If your manager is the one who assigns you responsibilities - they are not static. You must explain to her that she needs to be far more open minded, and embrace a team-first mentality. She is displaying selfishness, and probably raising concerns within the team that she is not the kind of person to back them up when the workload piles up. This attitude must be stomped out.

  • "Supervisors do not entrust her with work at her level"

To my mind this is starting to sound like less of a mentorship program than and more of a performance improvement plan at this point. You probably need to draft a list of priorities for this young lady, and make sure she understands that she's on thin ice.

  • Gossip and over-sharing

This can definitely poison people's opinion of a team-mate. Generally speaking this is not a fireable offense unless she goes to extreme lengths, however she does need to be made aware that sharing person details in company wide emails, and talking behind people's backs are behaviors which will definitely serve to ruin her reputation with management/HR and push the scales in the "fire her" direction.

Conclusion

Even more so than before I am convinced that this person needs a reality check. And not a nice one, served with a cup of cocoa, and a hug. She has formed an alarming number of bad habits, displays a poor attitude, is not meeting expectations, has lost the trust of her supervisors, and does not show proper respect to her fellow employees (that's what gossip is, ultimately).

The clearer the message, the better. And she stops thinking of you as her "friend", it's no loss of yours. She sounds like a someone who's on her way out regardless.

  • This is helpful. Thank you. I left specific examples out of my question in the interest of brevity, but I think preparing some concrete examples in advance will help me steer the conversation in the right direction. – mariecc13 May 5 '16 at 20:22
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    @Mariecc13 - I think some of the comments above are right on the money: start off with addressing how she takes criticism. If she chooses to discuss her personal life with coworkers that's something you can advise her against doing, but it's not really your prerogative to impose (unless it's company policy) [this is simply an example of possible unprofessional behavior]. However, if she takes any "negative" feedback to heart and starts hating the person who pointed it out then that is definitely a behavior you need to clearly highlight. Good luck! – AndreiROM May 5 '16 at 20:26
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I think you need to stop being nice and be blunt. She needs to clearly understand that her job is at risk if she continues to behave in a manner that is not consistent with the organizational culture. This needs to be a clear and unambiguous statement of exactly what behaviors need to change and what they need to change to. Work with HR to prioritize the items and try not to hit her with too many at once. Work out exactly what needs to change. Tell her that as her mentor you are trying to get her to make this change before HR and the supervisor put her on a Performance Improvement Plan or fire her. She needs to get that you are giving her serious advice that will result in bad things if she ignores it.

I would start with telling her the feedback you get from managers and other employees about her behavior is negative. That she is at serious risk of losing her job if she doesn't clean up her act and that you are here to help her make those changes, but if she ignores your advice, there is strong likelihood that official channels will be taking action to get rid of the problem.

The worst thing you can do for this person is try to be nice about this. It sounds as if you have been too nice already.

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Although you might think that approaching her straight on and with facts and examples on why her behaviors is unprofessional and unwanted in the workplace is the right method, it can spell disaster and unnecessary drama.

AndreiROM is right about the realities of the workplace, but many workplaces are different, and in some, being very personal and dropping the 'professional' persona is beneficial to the employees and moral.

Perhaps it's just not the type of environment and workplace that is fitting to her personality. You can't fit a square peg into a round hole no matter how you try. If her demeanor is such that she doesn't care about her supervisor's or boss's opinion on how to behave in their workplace, it's not the job for her.

If you're nervous that she will not accept constructive feedback from her mentor, then it just seems like you may be trying too hard. If her success is not tied directly to your job then simply acknowledge this as a situation where the person is not qualified.

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    The OP seems to be telling us that she is demonstrating behavior which is unsuitable in the workplace. And you're suggesting that the OP, as the person meant to train this "problem" employee, simply .. ignore this in order to avoid the drama, because this person just doesn't fit the company's culture? It seems to me like this is the sort of mentality which leads to people never telling one another what's wrong with their attitudes, and the whole "everyone's a winner" approach. I disagree completely - if something is "wrong" with her attitude it should be pointed out. – AndreiROM May 5 '16 at 20:19
  • @AndreiROM i can probably word my answer better, I don't intend that he doesn't address the issue, I mean that the issue is there, it's obvious, it causes problems, and she doesn't accept this since it continues, there has to be a point where enough is enough and you accept that it's not something that can be fixed – RenaissanceProgrammer May 5 '16 at 20:22
  • Or are you trying to separate behavior training from skill specific training? I admit I'm confused. – AndreiROM May 5 '16 at 20:22
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    Gotcha, so you're saying that there comes a point where you have to either accept the person as she is, or let them go (find a place where her attitude/behavior is accepted). However, it seems like this might be the first time when the light is really going to be shined on her attitude. Maybe so far she just isn't taking the hints and needs an actual conversation about her behavior. I guess the OP would know - I'm only guessing. – AndreiROM May 5 '16 at 20:23
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    Thanks to you both. I agree that I want to be sure I've been as clear as possible with my feedback, in case there's a chance she really hasn't gotten the message yet. But I definitely appreciate the reminder from @RenaissanceProgrammer that I can only give her feedback and it is up to her to receive and heed it. – mariecc13 May 5 '16 at 20:27

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