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Understanding the language and behaviours of fixed and growth mindsets


Throughout the month we have been introducing you to new way of coaching that we call Big Chats, Little Chats. We started the series by explaining how we developed an innovative new coaching model for the 21st Century as a pilot programme for telecoms giant O2. The programme has been hugely successful, boosting retail sales by 23 percent where it’s been used and increasing management engagement scores.

We introduced the modules which make up the programmes, which are Creating the Right Environment, FLIP it Thinking and Growth Mindset. This week, in the final week of the series, we introduce Growth Mindset and give you a valuable free resource which will help you develop a growth mindset in your organisation and your personal life.

What is growth mindset?

Growth mindset refers to a learning theory based on the idea that people can improve intelligence, ability and performance. The opposite, a fixed mindset, refers to the belief that a person’s talents are set. Years of research has shown that mindset is malleable.

How does growth mindset fit into the BC,LC model?

  • Understanding the language and behaviours of fixed and growth mindsets allows you to recognise them in yourself and others and gain a deeper perspective into how particular tasks and challenges are approached and undertaken. Armed with this knowledge, you can influence your own and others’ behaviours for more positive outcomes.
  • Understanding the psychological process people go through when they learn new skills and attempt new tasks (the learning pit) enables you to coach and support then and successfully navigate challenge and change.
  • The ability to identify and counteract self-limiting beliefs with positive feedback and feed forward gives you the ability build confidence and support ongoing improvement.

Language and behaviours

People with a growth mindset use positive and optimistic language. They recognise that challenging situations:

  • Are temporary, not permanent - ‘I can’t do it yet.’
  • Happen to everyone, not just them – ‘Other people have dealt with this successfully, I can learn from them.’
  • Are manageable, and don’t affect every aspect of their lives – ‘I’ve made a mistake, but I can learn from it and move on.’
  • Require a level of self-awareness to aid understanding – ‘I didn’t put in the effort, so that’s why I’ve not been successful this time.’

People with a growth mindset are more willing to work outside of their comfort zone. They are more likely to put time and effort into: 

  • Thinking creatively and solving complex problems. 
  • Reflecting on what happened; recognising and learning from mistakes.
  • Asking for feedback and taking it on board.
  • Growing their self-awareness.

Learn to hear fixed mindset language in yourself and others. Recognise it and talk back with growth mindset phrases, such as:

  • What am I missing?
  • What assumptions am I making about the situation?
  • Is that fact, or my judgement? 

Be a role model by showing perseverance and adaptive behaviours. Overcome obstacles and bounce back from major setbacks. Share these learning experiences. Notice and praise the learning process in others. Help people to recognise and correct their own and each other’s fixed mindset language.

Ask yourself and your team challenging questions:

  • What could someone else have done differently?
  • What can you learn from this situation, rather than feeling it’s a lost cause or wasted? 

The learning pit

The learning pit describes the process people go through when faced with a challenge which requires them to learn to do things in a different way to be successful. Initially they stand on the edge of the pit deciding whether to commit, they then make the leap by having a go, once in the pit they have to problem solve to find a way out, which can involve collaboration and concentration and on the other side they find success and deep learning. Leaders should understand the process to enable them to guide and support people through it.

The first stage is to create an environment in which people are confident to take a risk and have a go. You can do this by bringing mistakes out into the open and using a growth mindset with future focused language to talk about them. Celebrate and share mistakes. Frame them as learning opportunities.

Ask yourself if your questions and comments encourage a growth mindset, at each stage of the learning pit.

When people are at the problem-solving stage remember that brains respond very quickly to questions such as 'How?' and 'Why?' And when people have been through the pit encourage them to self-reflect.

Feed forward

Imagine that you are asked to give a presentation. You are anxious.  When it’s over, your manager says, "You seemed very nervous." 

This approach will most likely reinforce a fixed mindset of 'I always get nervous when I present' - which could make you even more anxious about doing something similar again or, even worse, leave you vowing never to present to others in the future.  

There are a few simple rules to follow, however, that ensure feedback becomes feed-forward and is positive and future focused.

  • Try not to give feedback which focuses purely on the person. This is likely to encourage a fixed mindset.
  • Try not to give praise which focuses solely on the outcome. It doesn’t give any information on how to improve or do things differently.
  • Focus on the effort and process. How did you manage your nerves this time? What could you do, to be even less nervous in the future?

Imagine instead that your manager fed forward and said: “Thank you. I know that you were nervous, but the message came across well. How did you manage your nerves this time? What could you do, to be even less nervous in the future?”

This would enable you to self-reflect and generate your own plan, to tackle those nerves going forward.

 You now have all three modules for the BC,LC programme. We hope you find them useful and get the opportunity to incorporate them into your own coaching sessions.

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Are organisations and companies just paying lip service?
Join some of the most interesting and respected voices in positive psychology for our Our Big Chat about…Thinking outside the tick box, inaugural webinar. Our two and half hour interactive event will look at the best mental health strategies for organisations, identifying what works and what doesn’t.

Dave McPartlin:

Dave is the Headteacher of Flakefleet Primary School.
Creating the right environment for people and communities to flourish

Sunita Hirani

Sunita is one of the BBC’s key equality, diversity and inclusivity experts.
Why inclusion is essential for mental wellbeing

Professor Sir Cary Cooper

Cary is one the world’s most influential voices in occupational health and wellbeing.
Enhancing Mental Wellbeing at Work. Evidence based strategies for creating a wellbeing culture at work.

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