Workplace Communication Challenge
Fixed versus Growth Mindset
Have you ever had a colleague blow up when you suggested changes to the project you’re collaborating on? Do you sometimes wonder why some co-workers, who embark without qualms on daunting projects and then fail, seem particularly undaunted when one of these projects fails dismally? Psychologist Carol Dweck was struck early in her career by the differences between the children she was studying as they approached challenging tasks. One group toiled over the increasingly difficult series of problems and gave up in frustration. But the other group embraced the difficult challenges, finding the prospect of failure positively bracing. Dweck, herself a believer that skills in things like problem-solving are a product of nature or our genes and in-born nature, puzzled over the differences.
Her work, however, soon drew her to understanding the difference between fixed and growth mindsets. In fixed mindsets, individuals believe skills are a form of gift. For example, we’re either simply musically inclined, good at math, lousy at spelling and vocabulary, or poor at spatial relations. However, in the growth mindset, we learn to become good at singing on key, solving for x, and writing excellent proposals. In other words, we learn by accepting challenges and also by interpreting failure as merely a step in acquiring mastery. In contrast, people with fixed mindsets believe failure means they will never be good at the tasks that currently bedevil them. Even Alfred Binet, the inventor of the IQ test, designed his test to identify children performing poorly in Parisian public schools as a means to creating educational programs that would help them improve their performance. In other words, the man we identify with IQ, which now represents the paradigm of the fixed mindset—the endowed-by-Nature camp—himself had a growth mindset, belonging to the endowed-by-Nurture camp.
That colleague who freaks out when you suggest revisions to the manuscript you co-authored with him? He probably possesses a fixed mindset. He’s not-so-secretly terrified he’s incapable of addressing the demands you’ve placed on him or of becoming better at writing or even editing his writing. Your rigid superior who refuses to hear criticism of the way your department handles customer service? She likely believes that she’s incapable of devising improvements that will facilitate higher levels of satisfaction with customers when they call your department for help or with complaints. Ultimately, Dweck herself, in her valuable book, Mindset: The New Psychology of Success, proves that you can move from a fixed to a growth mindset. In fact, she herself documents her own evolution from the Nature to the Nurture camp—and demonstrates how others can view failure as merely an incremental stage in the march toward mastery of a skill or task.