“Once your mindset changes, everything on the outside will change along with it.”
~ Steve Maraboli, 
Life, the Truth, and Being Free

Mindsets are interesting. They are the metaphorical lenses through which we view and interpret the world. They are our mental attitudes and outlooks that predict how we will view life’s events and circumstances. Mindsets also predict what paths our experiences and conversations will take.

As you think about an upcoming difficult conversation, what is your mindset? Is it open and curious? Or, are you predisposed to thinking that you’re not going to learn anything new or that you are disinterested in what the other person has to say? Whatever your mindset, that’s how the conversation will go. Mindsets have all the power to create our experiences, both positive and negative, and influence outcomes. Is your mindset one of growth, or is it restrictive?

Carol Dweck, a leading mindset researcher and professor of psychology at Stanford University, describes a growth mindset this way: “People believe that their most basic abilities can be developed through dedication and hard work—brains and talent are just the starting point. This view creates a love of learning and a resilience that is essential for great accomplishment.”

Conversely, when we have a restrictive mindset, we are in doubt of our abilities and/or we are experiencing a negative belief about ourselves. Or worse, we are experiencing negative self-talk. This restrictive mindset prevents us from moving forward—it prevents us from getting where we want to be. Naturally, the emotions produced by this negative mindset leads to feeling shut down and incapable. Sometimes we even want to quit and give up.

Mindsets have emotions, which then have actions.

Let me illustrate with two examples.

If we are stepping into a difficult conversation with a victim’s mindset, we are going to experience certain negative emotions. And, these emotions will have resulting actions.

Diagram – Restrictive mindset example (victim):

We can see how this negative mindset is going to impact our already difficult conversation. All of these negative emotions and resulting actions take us out of our power and set us up for failed communication and further polarization. To have successful difficult conversations we will need to get out of the victim’s mindset and into the growth mindset.

If we are stepping into a difficult conversation with a growth mindset, we are going to experience positive emotions. And, these emotions will have resulting actions.

Diagram – Growth mindset example (versus victim):

It is easy to envision how the growth mindset will lead us to a very different outcome. All positive outcomes must involve dialogue to first understand what it is that you do not know, in contrast to negative actions such as capitulation, surrender, or domination.

This requires a basic shift (as mentioned in Why Embracing Difficult Conversation’s is a Good Idea)..

THE BASIC SHIFT: Navigating with skill through a difficult conversation first requires, for most of us, a basic shift in our mindset from the ‘battle of messages’ to the ‘learning conversation.’

  • From: I know all I need to know and “I’m right.”
  • To: I can’t read minds and the other person has a perspective that I don’t fully know or understand.

Here are three tips to changing your mindset:

  • Be courageous. Having courage is about having the grit and determination to lean into something that is uncomfortable. When feeling a negative mindset (or in this case a victim’s mindset), courage will help to press through (not around or bypassing) the discomfort, to let go of the restrictive attachment, and to then be curious.
  • Practice self-kindness. When under stress and negative self-talk, it is easy to beat ourselves up and to feel defeated. How would we comfort friends experiencing this same challenge? We would likely treat them with kindness and care so they could hear us and be pulled forward into a healthier mindset. We need to apply this same care and kindness to ourselves, especially in difficult conversations.
  • Practice compassion. When we are feeling the negative mindset, we are often tempted to isolate ourselves and to feel that we are alone—that we are the only ones who are going through this challenge. Compassion is the ability to feel and be with the suffering of others. Self-compassion is no different, except that it is turned inward. Having compassion and self-compassion will help us feel connected to others and not alone in these difficult moments. Compassion will also help us understand the other person’s upset and encourage us to ask questions to learn what might have been hidden until now.

These three tips can be powerful antidotes to restrictive mindsets. They empower us and move us toward being imaginative and considering that new, healthier paths forward are possible.—

“More and more research is suggesting that, far from being simply encoded in the genes, much of personality is a flexible and dynamic thing that changes over the lifespan and is shaped by experience.”  ~ Carol Dweck, Professor of Psychology, Stanford University

Want to learn more about keeping an open mind and having productive conversations? I share three critical steps required before having a difficult conversation in my free training “How to Prepare for Difficult Conversations”. I’ll explain how to set your intention, remove judgments that can impact the outcome and how to make sure you are defining the problem correctly.  Register here – How to Prepare for a Difficult Conversation Video Series.