How to use a "growth mindset" to get better at feedback

What is a “growth mindset”?

And why does it matter when you are giving and receiving feedback?

This third and final post in my Feedback series focusses on the importance and value of the growth mindset.

(For the first post on giving feedback, click here, and for the second post on receiving feedback, click here.)

The “growth mindset" was defined by Stanford psychologist Dr Carol Dweck after studying how children responded to failure.

Some were devastated; others rebounded fairly quickly.

Those with a “growth mindset” operated from the fundamental belief that they can get smarter: therefore they are more likely to be willing to make mistakes and learn from them, and to realise that hard work will give them better results. So they do, and it does.

By contrast, those children with a “fixed mindset” believed that they were intelligent to a certain level, and it was a capacity that nothing could change: “I am a bit clever”; “I am stupid”.

This discourages experimentation, making mistakes and effort - because there is no point making an effort if your intelligence and character are fixed.

This definition chimes beautifully with the coaching world of neuroplasticity.

Neuroplasticity is the brain’s ability to shape its biological structure around your thoughts.

The pathways of the thoughts you have often get strengthened; or can wither, if you stop thinking those thoughts.

And you can literally increase neural growth through the enquiring thoughts that you have.

A growth mindset leads to, and then is supported by, growth in the brain.

So it is clear that a “growth” rather than “fixed” mindset is better for us in the workplace.

The more we believe that we can get better, the more likely we are to strive to do that - ultimately delivering better results.

But how is this relevant to feedback?

We now know that the types of praise we give children have a huge impact on whether they develop a “growth” or “fixed” mindset.

If you praise a child for “being clever”, you are praising them for a fixed quality of intelligence. This then becomes something they also perceive as fixed, and not something they can change with effort.

If, however, you praise a child for “working hard”, you are praising their effort. This supports the development of a “growth” mindset, and means they are more likely to make effort in the future, and take on challenges to learn from them (giving them better results).

A number of case studies support this conclusion.

Fiske Elementary School in Massachusetts introduced a programme in 2012 to develop a growth mindset in its diverse student population.

The teachers agreed to move from performance-based feedback to effort-based feedback.

As a result, the state-level assessment of their maths skills in the following two years revealed significant increases.

The assessment of growth in maths skills averaged 50% across Massachusetts; whereas at Fiske, the average across the school was 75%, and many individual students had scores in the 90%+ range - despite being a school considered to have many pupils with additional needs.

Graphic from

So how does this relate to workplace feedback?

Focussing on a growth mindset in how you give and receive feedback builds on the recommendations of the last two blog posts.

When giving feedback:

  • make sure that you emphasise the benefit of continuous improvement;

  • encourage your staff to take on new challenges, even if they are going to be a steep learning curve;

  • don’t punish mistakes, but focus on the lessons to be learned

  • celebrate learning, and encourage staff to take opportunities for training

  • reward effort and perseverance as well as results (including publicly)

  • encourage your staff to be honest about their current limitations (rather than hiding them), and encourage them to define ways to improve in these areas

  • celebrate small wins on an individual's journey.

When receiving feedback:

  • remember constructive feedback is the most effective method to learn and grow

  • be patient and kind to yourself while you are learning - don’t set impossible standards for yourself (remember: excellence, not perfection)

  • encourage your boss to set you stretching challenges

  • clarify what you can learn from the feedback, and put this into an action plan to help you deliver this

  • ask for specific suggestions for improvement in your work

  • ensure you have a training plan in place (and that you follow-through on it!).