How a Growth Mindset Transforms Feedback

I originally wrote this article for my company’s website. So fun to get to share my interest for this topic while doing my “day job”!   Since I’ve been MIA from this space for over 2 months (How’d that happen?!?) figured I’d share. 🙂  As noted in this article, I’ve been focused on annual evaluations for the past several weeks.  My team is spread out across six locations in Southern California, so I’ve been traveling to meet with everyone. This season is intense and challenges me to maintain a growth mindset as I provide feedback and hope to motivate my team.  There’s a beautiful symmetry: personal growth for me while I try to help others grow!  

For most people, annual evaluation season is about as eagerly anticipated as dental work.  You know deep down that it’s beneficial, but enduring the process is hard.  Writing and delivering evaluations is a challenge too, as you ponder: “How do I deliver feedback that is helpful and doesn’t cause the recipient to get defensive or upset?”   What if I told you that a simple mindset shift can make both giving and receiving evaluations much more enjoyable?

The reason many people dread giving or receiving feedback is because they have a fixed mindset. Carol S. Dweck, Ph.D. introduced the world to this concept in her book Mindset: The New Psychology of Success.  A fixed mindset is when you believe that a person’s qualities are carved in stone or “fixed”.  Therefore, you and everyone else has a certain amount of intelligence and talent.  When you hold this mindset, you focus entirely on proving how smart and capable you are.  Similarly, when evaluating the performance of others, they have no ability to improve or change from their set level of intelligence.  Why would anyone need or appreciate feedback if they are unable to change their fixed traits?

Fortunately, we don’t have to be stuck in a fixed mindset.  Dweck describes the opposite set of beliefs: that basic qualities are things you can cultivate through your efforts. This growth mindset means that everyone can change and grow through application and experience.  When you hold this mindset, you focus on effort, learning and growing new skills.  Similarly, when evaluating others, you view their performance as a current level of ability that can be improved through effort and practice. You can see how feedback is so important to cultivating a growth mindset.  When you want to learn and grow a skill, Dweck explains that you need accurate information about your current abilities in order to learn effectively.       

How does this play out in an evaluation setting?

Fixed Mindset

When the person receiving an evaluation has a fixed mindset, they typically explain away or dismiss “negative” performance feedback.  Since they believe their intelligence and abilities cannot be improved or developed, they have no other choice than to defend themselves and their past performance.  In this mindset, failure is a sign they are not smart or talented.

When the manager or evaluator has a fixed mindset, they are often reluctant to provide feedback. They project their belief that intelligence and ability are fixed onto the person, concluding that “constructive criticism” is ineffective and likely to anger the recipient.

Growth Mindset

When the person receiving an evaluation has a growth mindset, they are open to hearing an accurate assessment of their current performance. They are eager to learn and grow. Feedback allows them to develop new skills and stretch themselves.  In this mindset, failure is a setback that can provide valuable information to improve and develop themselves.

When the manager or evaluator has a growth mindset, they take on the role of coach and trainer. They know this person can grow and develop if they want to learn and apply themselves.   Therefore, feedback is provided to help the person see their current performance and skill level clearly.  The attitude is warm and encouraging, since we are all “works-in-progress”.

You can sure see how a growth mindset removes the potential angst of giving feedback, either informally or in a formal annual evaluation.  When both parties have a growth mindset, the process of discussing performance feedback is helpful and motivating.  I’d dare say it’s even pleasant.  Well, at least more enjoyable than a root canal.

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