The need to be right – fixed versus growth mindset

The need to be right – fixed versus growth mindset


‘If you correct your mind,
the rest will fall into place’

– Lao Tzu

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I am fascinated by the amount of controversy the recent decision by the Australian Government around vaccinations has created. Whilst this is a very emotive topic and I get that people have very strong opinions on this, I am reminded of how I see strong opinions play out in organisational life as ‘a need to be right’ which can get in the way a lot for people. Now I don’t know about you, but when    I have a need to be right, I am very clearly in my ego and my ego is driving my thoughts and conversations.

When I notice this playing out in myself, I have a little chuckle and sometimes a sigh, like ‘really am I back here again?’ then I remember that the antidote to this is curiosity. What is it about this argument that I feel so attached to? Is it possible that there are other views that are just as valid or reasonable? Of course there are!!!

It is no surprise that we judge people through our own lens that we hold, and unless we’re willing to explore other lenses, we may remain fixed in our worldview. I, personally want to grow and develop and be challenged with views that are completely different to mine, in that way I expose my thinking and levels of consciousness.

I found Carol Dweck’s work around fixed versus growth mindset really interesting in this regard. Dweck posits that our beliefs drive our behaviour (nothing new there) but she goes further to talk about a ‘fixed mindset’ assumes that are character and intelligence are static and success is due to proving that, thereby avoiding failure at all costs. I often see this type of mindset in people who are perfectionistic in nature and this often applies to people who have been trained as ‘experts’ e.g. doctors, lawyers etc. where their sense of self can often come from their intelligence.

Now what this can breed is a strong need to be right, which often is a defense mechanism, if I’m right, I’m in my ego and I’m certainly not demonstrating curiosity, also don’t know about you, but if I’m attached to being ‘right’, then that makes the other person ‘wrong’ and ‘wrong’ feels pretty crappy!!

In times gone by, our parents would often tell us:- ‘you’re so smart’ or ‘you’re so pretty’ to name but two characteristics, then what happens is children start to attach their sense of self to being smart for example, so rather than valuing learning as a mindset, they learn to value being right as right equates to smart.

On the other hand, ‘a growth mindset’ sees intelligence in a different way, it thrives on challenge and doesn’t attach a ‘sense of self’ to being smart, rather looking for opportunities to learn, and even dare I say it, fail! The thing with mindsets is that they develop from a very early age, from this comes our behaviour and our relationship with success and failure in personal life and business work but here’s the thing that really shook me the first time I studied Carol’s work OUR CAPACITY FOR HAPPINESS! That’s right – our capacity to be happy can be linked to how we choose to see the world and what I now realise how we see ourselves. If I see myself as someone who must get things right, then I can’t be vulnerable, then my connections will be limited, my relationships will be impacted and I may not feel I can really be my authentic self, hell if I can’t accept myself, how would I expect others to? Bloody heart opening stuff!!

In one of my other posts I spoke about Brene Brown’s work on ‘shame’ and interestingly Dweck posits that a fixed mindset leads to shame. Someone with a fixed mindset can’t be seen to make mistakes so they may lie to cover up their mistakes, ultimately leading to a shame mindset. The really fascinating thing from my personal point of view, is that this can link to how we see intimate relationships. If I view my partner through a fixed mindset lens, I will be inclined to lay blame, seeing my partner’s imperfections as unacceptable, looking for flaws, and because I have a need to be right, they can’t possibly be my flaws, so they must be my partner’s…….getting the pattern here?

The growth mindset, on the other hand says that your partner, yourself and the relationship are capable of growth and change. These people own their failings, learn from their mistakes and grow as a result, and also help the other person in the relationship to grow.

In organisational life, we often talk about the concept of ‘the balcony and dancefloor’ – the ability to get out of what is happening and get perspective. Honestly the older I get, I don’t know much, but I do know that getting perspective and an ability to grow have been two of the things that have helped me most in my work and personal life. Likewise, when I have a need to be right or have a fixed view about something that has gotten in the way of my work and my relationships.

So tell me…………….what do you feel about the growth versus fixed mindset?


Reflection thought starters:

Where do you have a need to be right?

What impact has this had on your sense of self, your relationships?

How well do you handle failure?

Where could you demonstrate more curiosity?


Resources I found useful:

Mindset: The New Psychology of Success; How we can learn to fulfill our potential, Carol Dweck

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