No matter where you work or what you do, there’s no escaping feedback.
From formal situations like performance reviews, to informal ones like sporting a new haircut, feedback—information you get about yourself from other people—is unavoidable.
It’s part of being human.
That’s why the Evive Book Club recently read Thanks for the Feedback: The Science and Art of Receiving Feedback Well by Douglas Stone and Sheila Heen. The book inspired us to discuss the fact that while feedback can be painful, it often presents significant opportunities for growth.
Our top takeaway
A person’s ability to act on feedback, especially the negative kind, is driven in large part by whether they approach life with a fixed mindset or a growth mindset.
Those who have a fixed mindset believe that their personal traits are unchangeable. When they receive negative feedback, they’re likely to recoil because it undermines their sense of self. Sensing the threat, they might deny the feedback completely. Even worse, they might look for faults in the person giving the feedback.
Those with a growth mindset respond differently. To them, negative feedback isn’t a threat; it’s an opportunity. People who possess a growth mindset can accept feedback, good or bad, as part of the story (while knowing that it’s not the whole story). They can then use the feedback to shift their approach, improving their skills and judgment along the way.
Much of what we know about these two mindsets comes from Stanford University psychologist Carol Dweck, who led a study about a decade ago that explored how children cope with failure. She gave a group of 10-year-olds a series of puzzles to complete, each one more difficult than the last. She noticed that some kids grew frustrated and gave up when the puzzles became challenging, while others became more excited as the puzzles got tougher.
After interviewing the kids, Dweck found that the ones who gave up easily were engaged in the following thought process: “The first puzzles showed I was smart. These new ones are making me look (and feel) dumb.” In contrast, the kids who stuck with it thought, “These new harder puzzles are helping me get better at doing puzzles. This is fun!”
The kids’ persistence (or lack thereof) had little to do with their aptitude—and a lot to do with their attitude.
Stone and Heen put it well: “It’s as if the growth-mindset kids were doing the puzzles in a room called the ‘Learning Room,’ and the fixed-mindset kids were doing the puzzles in a room called the ‘Testing Room.’ Which room would you rather live your life in?”
Living in the Learning Room
As Stone, Heen, and Dweck all point out, a growth mindset isn’t something we’re all born with. But it’s something we can all cultivate, both in ourselves and in our organizations.
At Evive, our managers emphasize the importance of learning, taking risks, and seeking continuous improvement—and they give us explicit encouragement to do so. For instance, in performance reviews, we’re evaluated on things like our ability to see beyond current practices and devise new and improved processes, as well as our willingness to take smart risks and encourage others to do the same.
Reading Thanks for the Feedback gave us the opportunity to talk openly about how we give, receive, and grow from feedback. And it reminded us why it’s so important to live (and work) in the Learning Room: because while having a growth mindset doesn’t mean you’ll never fail again, it does mean you’ll never fail without coming out stronger, equipped with the wisdom to do better next time.