I recently finally finished reading Carol Dweck’s book on Growth Mindset. It’s one that has sat on my Kindle for the longest while, yet like so many things, seems to have popped up again just at the moment when I was most likely to need it. Thank you Universe.To have a growth mindset is to develop the view of ourselves that we are capable of anything, that we are worthy of doing so and that anything is possible if you put your mind to it. Done well, a growth mindset really is the key to unlocking a life lived to its expansive potential.The opposite of a growth mindset is to have a fixed mindset; something entirely inflexible and completely limiting. The average person has a blend of both. Where we have a growth mindset in some areas of our lives we might be fixed in others.I was never aware of what kind of mindset I had up until recently, when I started to consider more about what makes people thrive within startups and in particular, as Founders. To build and sustain businesses in quite the way they do means a growth mindset is essential; they have to believe that anything is possible.
This leads to the question; is a growth mindset something that we can learn?I am pleased to say that the answer is a resounding yes.Whilst I am definitely still the average person here, with different mindset approaches in different areas of my life, I’m delighted to say that in the past few years I’ve unwittingly developed a growth mindset across many spectrums of my life that previously were blocked. Though let’s also be clear it was a little more by accident rather than by design. Thank you again Universe.Up until about 7 years ago my mindset was very much fixed when it came to myself and my own capability.As a young child I was confident, sassy and felt I could do anything. The shutdown came for me at around 10 or 11 years old. I can remember a series of disappointments, often linked to creative expression, that led me to shrink myself smaller and become less confident in sharing my ideas.Even though I have always been one of the smallest people in the room, I have also often been one of the loudest. That meant I often had the attention of teachers for the wrong reasons, and that I caused a reaction in some of those teachers and their perception of me as a threat to their authority. I asked a lot of questions. Rather than work with the spirited child they were faced with to yield excellent results, instead they generally formed a negative view around my capability to learn.Granted, my ideas were often a little outside of the norm, but rather than cherish them and help me work them into something that fit the bill for what they were looking for, the teachers around me tended to squash them.The views they held on me academically felt absolute, so I took them at their word and decided quite unconsciously that traditional learning wasn’t for me. Sure, I continued to learn from the ‘school of life’, but even simple things like reading became sidelined as I focused on my street savvy as my sole means of survival. I created a hard belief about myself and my ability that mirrored theirs.Instead I applied my creative energies into a full scale teenage rebellion and perpetuated the labels that they had given me.At around that time I also started the ugly pursuit of seeking validation from the world around me and look for its approval, and in doing so, curbed my tongue on almost everything. I was constantly seeking a new tribe to belong to, one that I could feel safe in, so metamorphosised through many different identities throughout my teens. My apparent confidence was merely a smokescreen for a deep sadness and a very low self esteem.I then let the views of others dictate my reality for a very long time indeed.The key to unlocking it was love. Love for myself and love in the form of the belief of others. The key to that love was to develop a real connection with myself. Thank you (yet again) Universe.I’d been taking tiny steps in the direction of self, inspired largely by others that crossed my path. The big shift in my early 30s, when those little steps culminated into a big loud voice inside myself that told me I needed to tear everything up and start over. I needed to build a new life from the inside out. So that’s exactly what I did.I had finally found (and started to pay attention to) my own voice.Since then, I have continued taking those little tiny steps to make positive choices in alignment with what truly serves me. Bit by bit those choices have helped me to learn to love myself, respect myself and see my value in the world.One of those choices was to learn how to learn again. I did that by quietly giving myself the safe space to do so, by creating a learning commitment to myself that started small with just 10 minutes of reading a day. That has gradually developed over time and I have now become someone who is basically always learning something; whether teaching yoga, how to do the people stuff better or whatever else.This has only been possible as a by product of the love and admiration I was developing for myself. I now know (and truly believe) that I am capable of anything I put my mind to, I just have to be brave enough to do it. I am now committed to life long learning.
Whatever we apply ourselves to, we can get better at.As I said at the beginning, we generally have a mix of mindsets; we can still be abundant in some areas and closed off in others. A fixed mindset is insidious, and will creep around you in a myriad of different ways if you allow it.Sometimes you can be exposed to people who trigger old patterns within you and the fears can resurface, I have experience that in the workplace with a former boss. You have to protect your mindset when this kind of challenge occurs and become aware of when you are retreating back to something that feels safer. Be bold, be brave and hold your course.My work here is by no means done. Now that I’m aware of just how important my mindset is, I am careful to look at the areas where I am still fixed and holding myself back. From that place of awareness I can work to create the right dialogue with myself to continue to set myself free, to be bold, be brave and to hold my course.
When I said I made it my mission to get better at giving authentic feedback in my last post, what I didn’t tell you was that I ended up with a two for one deal; by learning how to give feedback well it made me consider how well I was receiving feedback, which honestly had some room for improvement. Wowch.
This was quite some revelation and one I became determined to work on. Receiving feedback well is an essential piece of the self awareness puzzle; if we aren’t open to receiving it, even when it hurts a little, we are essentially living in an echo chamber.
How you receive feedback can vary wildly according what kind of person you are, and quite honestly, the degree to which you care what other people think.
There are different kinds of innate reactions to feedback and these are often reactions that we can’t help. What we can do however, is to get better at creating the space in the moment to control what our response is. That doesn’t mean the reaction goes, it just means that we are able to rationalise it and behave a little more graciously (hopefully) when it really counts.
For the purposes of looking at how we evolve the way we receive this kind of data, I’ve created some personas by way of illustration. It’s worth noting that we can also be at different ends of that spectrum on different days depending on what is going on for us.
Let’s start with the zero f’s operator.
One of life’s lucky devils who gets to live by their own rules, at least in the main. They feel comfortable being just who they are and expressing their opinions – great right? Yes. A lot of the time it’s wonderful, but there’s also a flip side to that level of sureness. It can be at the expense of genuine learning. They can feel so content with their view that they dismiss the views of others without introspection.
Whilst I 100% salute the sureness and champion living by your whole body intelligence first and foremost (all the wisdom you need is all within you; FACT), it’s worth approaching feedback conversations a little differently.
If we think we know best and let ourselves be completely closed to the views of others, we create a myriad of different (and potentially deadly) blind spots. It’s crucial to learn the art of openness, the joy to be found in hearing someone else’s perspective, and then allowing the new data to marinate.
Let’s now consider the other end of the spectrum; the worry wort.
By total reverse this person cares so deeply what people think that they allow themselves to be derailed by even the slightest murmur of critique. They feel it tangibly within their bodies, as they ping into fight or flight response and try to find a way out – or even more insidiously, they take that new data as fact.
Fear and perfectionism can leave this person paralysed in the moment, either sounding super defensive as they try to deal with their emotional reaction to the thing or just glibly nodding and agreeing and quietly questioning internally how on earth the world had allowed them to do this job in the first place, given that they are such a bad person.
This has been me at times. Even if I managed to hold it together outwardly, inside I was mortified. The conversations we have with ourselves are deadly my friends, so you have to put in the work to make sure that your inner dialogue is a good one.
The happy medium lies somewhere in the middle.
Our happy place is somewhere between those two extremes; where we care enough to learn and grow but we don’t default to taking things personally. When people give us feedback we are able to hear it, control our actions and break it down into actionable learning.
Whilst I was never 100% at one of the extremes, I’ve suffered like most people by the very human characteristics of wanting to do good things, wanting people to think good things about me, wanting to feel like I’m doing my best and wanting to be liked.
Whilst this is a very normal state of affairs, it’s fundamentally flawed as you are eternally seeking external validation. We are all born whole, magnificent beings that have an inner compass that could steer them through anything, yet all too often we have our focus elsewhere.
But we are where we are, so it’s important that we learn how to get back to our essence, whilst being open to learning at the same time.
My advice for taking feedback well – even if you fake it until you make it – would be to:
- Teach your heart to smile when presented with new data, approach conversations positively – meditating just beforehand is a great leveller for me.
- Learn to rationalise your emotional responses and choose better ones. Getting to know your emotional spectrum intimately will help you to evolve and grow your EQ. This has to start with self. Meditation has allowed me the connection I needed to create the space to do this.
- Keep your body in an open dynamic by sitting in an open posture. Sounds crazy I know, but crossed legs and crossed arms sends messages of defensiveness not only around your own body, but also to the person giving you feedback. I have forcefully made myself do this in difficult interactions so I can tell you first hand, it really works.
- Be warm, friendly and supportive to the person who is giving you the feedback, where possible thanking them. Even if you come back later to say thank you; no one is perfect. Respect the challenge of the person in front of you and the energy and care it has taken them to do so, it’s hopefully coming from a place of love after all.
- It’s okay to ask questions and clarify your understanding, but be careful that you aren’t using your questions as a form of defence. Remember: feedback doesn’t have to be fully accurate to be useful, but even 5% could be something game changing for you.
- Make life easier for yourself by telling your closest team mates how you like to receive feedback, and ask them the same question. Taking control of how you like people to give feedback to you will allow you to create the support you might need to get better at taking it. As a leader, it’s even more important that you make bi-directional feedback a ‘thing’ and that you set the platform for honesty with your team. The very definition of leading by example.
I’d love to hear from those of you who have had to put the work in to get better, and if there are any other tricks that have worked for you, whichever part of the spectrum you are sitting on.
In the meantime, if you have any feedback for me on my blog, or anything else, I invite you to approach me with your whole heart and let’s have a feedback conversation.
Giving feedback can be a bit of a nemesis for a lot of people.
There’s a feeling of awkwardness when you know you have something to share but would rather run away from it. There were so many times in my life when I kept schtum and then later wished I’d said something. The times where you ‘learn’ six months later what you already could have called out at the beginning by simply being a little braver.
On realising this fact a couple of years ago I made a pact with myself to level up my ability to give feedback.
It’s just a skill like all the others; invest some time into learning it and practicing it and you get really really good at it. Promise. I can’t say its always easy, but I can say the dynamics of my relationships have improved immeasurably with the level of honesty I am able to bring to them.
So here’s my take on how I managed to get those awkward conversations right, whether personal or professional.
Good feedback starts from the place that should be the foundation of everything: LOVE.
In a recent blog, I shared a definition of love according to Scott Peck as “the will to extend one’s self for the purpose of nurturing one’s own or another’s spiritual growth.”
If extending yourself outside of your comfort zone to give important feedback to someone isn’t love in action, I don’t know what is.
To give feedback effectively you have to care deeply about the person you are giving the feedback to.
That doesn’t mean that you have to know them super well, it could actually be your first meeting, the key is about caring enough to understand (and take responsibility) for the imprint that you leave on the humans you interact with day to day.
Even the smallest things that you present and project onto another can have huge ramifications. Becoming aware of this will hopefully bring a sense of responsibility with the nature of your interactions all of the time, not just in feedback conversations. Every moment counts.
When you are considering giving feedback to someone, it’s worth checking in on your own energy and intention. Is the thing that you feel you need to share honest? Is it necessary? Is it kind?
Is it a desire to support the other person or is it actually a patronising, condescending ‘I want to make myself feel bigger that you’ space. I’m sure most of us have experienced being on the receiving end of feedback given in the wrong energy; where you can come away feeling chastised and belittled. It’s completely avoidable.
What we are looking for here is an authentic drive to enable the growth of the other person; only you can be the judge of when and where that occurs.
Trust is the foundation of all good relationships, whether professional or personal. Will your feedback support the development and continuation of trust, or will it break it?
Once we have established that we deem the feedback is being presented in the right energy, it’s important to check it’s happening between the right people; is it your place to give this particular feedback?
In a work context, folks can sometimes be a little overzealous with feedback, and it’s common for people a couple of layers up to get embroiled in conversations that should be happening a couple of layers down. My general rule of thumb, is that the person or people closest to the thing (whatever the thing is) should be the ones discussing it.
I’m probably trying to teach grandma how to suck eggs here, but for the avoidance of any doubt, the right time and place for feedback is critical.
Feedback should almost always be given 1:1 and ideally in a timely manner so that the feedback conversation is close enough to the actual event itself. It should also be given in a place that the person receiving the feedback is comfortable with. That can obviously vary dramatically from person to person.
I was once given some rather challenging feedback by a former boss in a glass meeting room where I was facing out to an open office; I literally had nowhere to hide. It made an already tough conversation much much harder.
As I mentioned above, timing of feedback is everything. Some feedback becomes irrelevant if it isn’t given in real time. Other times it is more important to make sure that you are in the right environment to give it.
When it comes to timing though, it is perhaps most important that it occurs at the right time for both the giver and the receiver. If you are giving feedback; are you in your best energy? If you are even slightly out of sorts, the feedback could come out completely wrong and be misinterpreted. Meditation is hugely supportive for me here.
As the giver, it is you that is driving when the conversation happens in the main, so you have to dial up on your emotional intelligence to make sure that the timing works for the receiver also. If they are clearly having a challenging day, perhaps a kinder thing might be to wait and have the conversation later.
I remember a time when I gave some feedback on the fly, after being asked for it. My answer should have been; let me reflect and we can discuss this later. Instead I broke all of my own rules, and gave clumsy feedback that not only didn’t land well, it actually got completely lost in translation. I had to work much harder to reset that relationship to rebuild the trust than the effort it would have taken to get the conversation right.
If you work with someone quite closely, it’s worth asking them how they like to receive feedback and take the time to understand what does and doesn’t work for them.
Putting in that kind of effort to understand someone has love at its core, and when things start from there, you have a much better chance of ending up in a good place.