I was recently asked by a client to create a workshop for them on Growth Mindsets and how to cultivate these in oneself and others. This led me to explore the link between Growth Mindsets and Emotional Intelligence. In this article I explain the link as I see it.
A Growth Mindset, as defined by Dr Carol Dweck, is characterised by an underlying belief that abilities and intelligence can be developed. This mindset is often further defined by contrasting it with a so-called Fixed Mindset; an underlying belief that our abilities and intelligence are predetermined and set at particular levels.
Emotional Intelligence is a set of abilities to do with emotions, specifically the capacity to perceive and understand emotions within oneself and others; express emotions effectively; and manage emotions within oneself and others. The science of Emotional Intelligence has shown that these abilities can be learned and improved over time and with training. They are not fixed; they are more like skills that can be improved. In fact, there are many other links between Emotional Intelligence and the Growth Mindset. This article describes the science of emotions and how our Emotional Intelligence can be used to facilitate Growth Mindsets and behaviours.
The science of emotions has shown that our emotions guide our thinking and behaviour. Positive emotions broaden and build our thinking and cause us to show more engaged behaviours. For example, when we experience positive emotions we tend to show more interest, pay more attention, ask more questions and interact with others in a more open, exploratory fashion. These engaged behaviours are essential for adopting a Growth Mindset. Conversely, negative emotions narrow and limit our thinking and cause us to show less-engaged behaviours. We tend to show less interest in what’s being said, look for the fault or problem in others’ propositions, and be more defensive when our own propositions are challenged. Negative emotions, therefore, tend to facilitate a more Fixed Mindset. Indeed, mood and emotions are very interlinked with our mindsets.
Emotional self-awareness is the Emotional Intelligence capacity that gives us an insight into our emotional state, and, therefore, whether we are likely adopting a Growth or Fixed Mindset. Emotional self-management is the Emotional Intelligence capacity that helps us shift our emotions from negative to positive and vice versa. Therefore, it is critical to our mental and behavioural agility and our capacity to shift between Growth and Fixed Mindsets. Emotional awareness of others is the Emotional Intelligence capacity that gives us an insight into the emotional states of others, and, therefore, whether others are likely adopting a Growth or Fixed Mindset. Positive influence – the capacity to positively influence the way others feel – is the Emotional Intelligence capacity that helps us shift others’ emotions from negative to positive and vice versa. Therefore, it is critical to our capacity to help others shift between Growth and Fixed Mindsets.
In workplaces, the more Emotional Intelligence people have, the more likely they are to be mentally and behaviourally agile and, therefore, adopt Growth Mindsets. Emotional Intelligence learning and development implemented across a workforce can help organisations grow a Growth Mindset culture.
Below, we outline some of the more specific behaviours of the Genos model of Emotional Intelligence that help facilitate both Growth and Fixed Mindsets.
Self-awareness: being aware of the way you feel and the impact your feelings can have on decisions, behaviour and performance. Specific behaviours that help us adopt a Growth Mindset include (items 1–3 of the Genos Workplace EI Assessment):
- Reflecting on the way you feel.
- Being aware of the impact emotions can have on your thinking.
- Being aware of the impact emotions can have on how you interact with others.
Awareness of others: perceiving, understanding and acknowledging the way others feel. Doing this makes others feel understood and valued – two important emotions that help facilitate Growth Mindsets. Specific behaviours that help us adopt a Growth Mindset include (items 1–4 of the Genos Workplace EI Assessment):
- Accurately acknowledging the way others feel.
- Recognising others’ non-verbal emotional cues (like body language).
- Accurately viewing situations from others’ perspectives (e.g., they are seeing this from a Fixed Mindset viewpoint – ‘nothing can be done here’).
- Adjusting behaviour so that it fits well with others (e.g., ‘I’m demonstrating a Fixed Mindset position here whilst others aren’t, I need to flex’).
Authenticity: openly and effectively expressing oneself and encouraging this behaviour in others. This Emotional Intelligence capability is essential to creating a Growth Mindset culture in workplaces. Knowing the theory of Growth and Fixed Mindsets isn’t enough. We all like to think we adopt Growth Mindset thinking and behaviour most of the time. In reality, we don’t. This competency is needed in teams and cultures to help challenge and support the shifts needed from Fixed to Growth Mindsets. Without it we can get (to draw on Patrick Lencioni), “a culture of artificial harmony and a fear of confrontation”. We don’t call out each other’s Fixed Mindsets when they manifest and support the shift. Specific behaviours that help us adopt a Growth Mindset include (items 1–4 and 6 of the Genos Workplace EI Assessment):
- Sharing how you feel with others.
- Describing your own feelings in a way that is sensitive to the feelings of others.
- Expressing your feelings in the right place and time.
- When necessary, facilitating challenging conversations effectively.
- Encouraging others to express themselves.
Emotional reasoning: using the information in feelings (from oneself and others) and combining it with other facts and information when decision-making. In part, a Fixed Mindset is defined by negative emotions and a limited viewpoint, “You have what you have, this will be a difficult situation, they won’t change.” Emotional reasoning is the Emotional Intelligence competency that helps people look at the possibilities that might exist and explore and gather multiple viewpoints. It helps us shift from Fixed to Growth Mindset thinking. Specific behaviours that help us adopt a Growth Mindset include (items 1–3 and 5 of the Genos Workplace EI Assessment):
- Reflecting on feelings when decision-making (to help determine if they are helping or hindering a Growth Mindset perspective).
- Asking others how they feel about potential solutions to problems.
- Considering issues from multiple perspectives.
- Being aware of biases in decision-making (e.g., women aren’t as good as men at solving these math problems).
Self-management: managing one’s own mood and emotions, time and behaviour and continuously improving oneself. A hallmark of the Growth Mindset is the underlying belief that we can continuously improve and develop. More specific behaviours of this dimension of our model, which help support and facilitate Growth Mindset thinking and agile behaviour, include (items 1, 3, 4 & 7):
- Responds effectively in stressful situations.
- Adapts effectively to different/changing circumstances.
- Responds effectively to criticism from others (e.g., by being open to it, wanting to learn and grow from it, rather than justifying or defending one’s position or behaviour).
- Improves themselves.
Positive influence: positively influencing the way others feel through problem solving, providing feedback and recognising and supporting others’ work. This Emotional Intelligence capability is at the heart of a Growth Mindset thinking and behaviour organisational culture. It helps others develop and grow the way they think and behave in the workplace. More specific behaviours of this dimension of our model, which help support and facilitate Growth Mindset thinking and agile behaviour, include (items 1, 3, 5 & 7):
- Provides useful support to others.
- Helps others respond effectively to stressful situations (because stress narrows and limits thinking and causes disengaging behaviour).
- Helps create a positive work environment (because positive emotions broaden and build thinking and cause engaging behaviour).
- Positively influences the way others feel.
While Emotional Intelligence isn’t all it takes to help create a Growth Mindset workplace, it can certainly play a large role; from the basic underlying neuroscience of emotions (Broaden and Build vs Narrow and Limit), as best described by people like David Rock and Barbara Fredrickson, to more specific Emotional Intelligence competencies and behaviours of the Genos Model, as outlined in this article.
We believe that one of the best starting places for developing Growth Mindset thinking and behaviour is multi-rater feedback. It helps us ascertain the current state and identify personal development opportunities, and, at the end of the day, a culture of giving and receiving feedback openly and constructively is at the heart of a Growth Mindset culture at work.
Workshop activities to start Growth Mindset thinking and behaviour
- Define what Growth Mindset thinking and behaviour is (use the summary illustration above), and have the group identify times when either they or the organisation has adopted a Growth Mindset approach to something.
- Define what Growth Mindset thinking and behaviour is and link it with Emotional Intelligence. Give your participants the questions of the Genos Emotional Intelligence Assessment (via the Behaviour Sort Card Deck), and have them select from the deck EI behaviours they see as underpinning and supporting Growth Mindset thinking and behaviour. This is a great discovery-based learning activity.
- Provide people with the opportunity to go through the Genos Workplace 180-degree Emotional Intelligence Assessment. Provide them with group or individual feedback and encourage everyone to undergo the Response Process, as outlined in the back of their reports. This approach facilitates a culture of giving and receiving feedback (on behaviours critical to Growth Mindset thinking and behaviour), and gives everyone a language and set of behaviours for it.