How to Apply a Growth Mindset to Channel Feedback Into Growth
(Even When the Delivery is Poor)
Giving and receiving feedback is an art form and a learned skill. Although resources abound on how to effectively deliver feedback, there is a dearth of training on how to receive it productively. The purpose of feedback is to motivate positive change. Too often though, the possibility for growth is hindered when the recipient internalizes the feedback, focuses on the negative, and stews in self-criticism and doubt, rather than using it to fuel growth. Whether or not feedback is artfully delivered, the recipient has a choice — to apply a growth mindset or a fixed mindset.
What is the difference between Growth Mindset and Fixed Mindset?
‘Growth mindset’ is a buzzy concept that can be difficult to articulate and distinguish from fixed mindset. One of the best explanations that I have seen comes from this New York Times article:
“Those with a fixed mind-set don’t believe their abilities, intelligence and personalities can really change and evolve. They see mistakes, challenges and setbacks simply as signs of stupidity or incompetence and give up…Those with a growth mind-set understand that intelligence and capabilities are malleable. Even if we all won’t become world-class mathematicians, for example, we can get better at math. They are more likely to be resilient in the face of obstacles and failure, seeing them as necessary to becoming better at just about anything.”
Here are the key distinctions:
Let’s look at a real-life example of my client, Mark, who was stuck in a fixed mindset regarding feedback from his leader, Sarah. (All names have been changed). Then, I’ll show you what would change if Mark applied a growth mindset.
Real-Life Client Example:
Mark is a director-level leader at a Fortune 100 company. He works closely with other leaders across the organization and speaks frequently in front of large audiences. Every time Mark speaks, his leader, Sarah, gives him on-the-spot feedback. Sarah often compliments various aspects of Mark’s delivery and always provides one piece of constructive criticism. Recently, Mark was standing on a balance board while giving a virtual presentation. Afterwards, Sarah told him he did a fantastic job delivering the content and his overall pace and presence was spectacular. She noted that Mark was swaying back and forth, which may have been distracting to some attendees, and suggested that he be more mindful of this in the future.
Fixed Mindset Mark:
Mark focuses on the single piece of critical feedback, to the exclusion of everything positive. Mark internalizes the comment about swaying. He beats himself up, thinking “I’m so dumb. I should have known better.” Mark dwells for days on Sarah’s comment, which distracts his focus away from work he needs to complete. Mark is insecure about his speaking abilities and is just waiting for the next nit-picky comment from Sarah. The stress of her constant critique gets in the way of his ability to do his best work.
Here’s what would change if Mark embraced a growth mindset:
Growth Mindset Mark:
Mark welcomes the feedback from Sarah. He is excited to hear that the content, pace, and presentation were well-received. While utilizing the balance board was an attempt to calm his presentation anxiety, he understands that it had unintended consequences. Mark starts to research other tools to add to his repertoire to remain calm during stressful moments. Mark is confident that he will be better prepared to deliver his next talk.
It’s easy to see how Growth Mindset Mark is more likely to grow and improve from Sarah’s feedback. Moreover, by seeing the upside of Sarah’s feedback, Growth Mindset Mark avoids getting bogged down in negativity, self-criticism, and self-blame. Instead, he channels the feedback into self-improvement.
Choose a Growth Mindset to Propel Growth and Avoid the Rumination Rabbit Hole
Too often, feedback is poorly delivered. Regardless of the delivery, however, the receiver always has the choice to apply a growth mindset. By consciously choosing new, more growth-minded thoughts, you can train your brain to avoid the self-criticism rabbit hole and, instead, fuel confidence, growth, and resilience.
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