Recently a respected friend suggested I read Mindset: The New Psychology of Success by Carol Dweck, Ph.D. I ordered it. It came. When I thumbed through it and discovered many pages of small print, I set it aside. “Not now. Maybe later.”
Yesterday I opened it to the section on business. I barely made it through the true examples of well-known business leaders who made an initial big splash in recovering a failing company, but failed to prepare the company for ongoing growth, and so, ultimately failed in their mission. The cause was what she terms as a “fixed mindset,” meaning “Only I, the Leader, knows what is best for this company.”
These were compared to less lauded business leaders who faced a failing company with the desire to learn, grow, identify issues, listen to team-mates, create a learning, encouraging mindset…and who ultimately led their team to recovery and profit. An “open mindset” is eager to hear another’s opinion, listen to feedback, and make adjustments
This was sort of inspiring, but I have a hard time relating to an executive of a multi-billion dollar company like Chrysler, GE, Enron, Chase-Manhattan Bank.
This morning I opened the section about relationships. NOW she began speaking my language! My late husband and I believed, and taught, that SoulMate Relationships are created…earned…not born. (See our book, How to Stay Married & Love It! Solving the Puzzle of a SoulMate Marriage.)
Carol says it this way, “…people with the fixed mindset expect everything good to happen automatically. …sort of like it happened to Sleeping Beauty, whose coma was cured by her prince’s kiss, or to Cinderella, whose miserable life was suddenly transformed by her prince.”
In relationship, as in business, parenting, and life, Carol says, “In the growth mindset, there may still be that exciting initial combustion, but people in this mindset don’t expect magic. They believe that a good, lasting relationship comes from effort and from working through inevitable differences. But those with the fixed mindset don’t buy that.”
In my twenty-five years of coaching couples, as well as painfully learned in my own relationships, a fixed mindset believes that “if we love each other, we shouldn’t have to work hard. We should just be able to talk to work things through. A great, lasting relationship should just come automatically from our love. If my partner loves me, he/she will give me what I need, understand me, accept my foibles no matter how irritating they are, etc., etc., etc.”
Couples with a fixed mindset blame each other for problems, label each other as “selfish, stubborn, unfeeling, lacking empathy, abusive and incapable of change.” Each sees the other as stuck in a “wrong” position that makes no sense, isn’t reasonable. Each sees him or herself as “right, reasonable, and justifiably wronged.” They eventually see the relationship as “impossible, doomed, deserving of dissolution.” These fixed ways of viewing a partner or relationship are guaranteed to produce unhappiness, and ultimately failure.
It was my challenge as a wife in a very conflicted relationship to open my mind to new ways of saying things that were less inflammatory and new ways of seeing my husband rather than labeling him as “wrong.” I needed to look at what I was contributing to the hostile atmosphere that had begun to consume our relationship…and be willing to learn and change.
As a coach, it is my challenge to help couples who are stuck in a “fixed mindset” about each other and their relationship to open up to new possibilities, new communication skills, new ways of viewing each other and the future of their relationship. I must create a vivid picture of what they can have if they are willing to learn and change.
Back when computers were a new phenomenon, a term was coined describing what computers could…and couldn’t do for us. It was “garbage in/garbage out.” I find that true in relationships, as well.
The good news is that when you learn better communication and conflict management skills, and are then willing to contribute those skills to the relationship, you will soon enjoy the results of a more loving, supportive, mutually nurturing relationship that you will gladly be a part of “until death do us part.”
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