Feedback with a growth mindset | Marshall Shen

Feedback with a growth mindset

Feedback with a growth mindset

Everyone can grow, and that’s why we ask, give, and receive feedback. Practicing feedback is an art that requires us to ask the right questions and set proper expectations.

fixed vs. growth mindset

A fixed mindset assumes that our character, intelligence, and creative ability are static, which we can’t change in any meaningful way. Under a fixed mindset, success is an affirmation of inherent intelligence. Striving for success and avoiding failure at all costs become a way of maintaining the sense of being smart or skilled. A growth mindset thrives on challenge and sees failures not as evidence of unintelligent but as a heartening springboard for growth and stretching our existing abilities. The two mindsets reflect how we handle our success or failures and how we ask and receive feedback. To foster a growth mindset culture, we need to pay attention to and set norms on feedback with a growth mindset.

A mental model on feedback

One useful mental model is to provide feedback based on area of strength and area of growth. Concrete examples should back both types of feedback. Voice concerns if a piece of feedback seems to be rooted in a fixed mindset, not a growth mindset. “This piece of feedback indicates that this person is permanent X. We fundamentally believe that everyone can learn and grow. What type of effort is needed to help change this person’s behavior to meet our expectations?”

Ask feedack with a growth mindset

When asking for feedback about someone’s performance, the way of a growth mindset is to focus on specific behaviors and examples. In contrast, the way of fixed mindset leads to feedback the describes someone with a fixed trait. The way we ask for feedback matters.

Some questions are questions that promote fixed mindset. That is, how NOT to ask for feedback:

  • What do you like about this person?
  • What are your concerns about this person?

With open-ended questions, the reviewer doesn’t have a concrete direction to give feedback. And because everyone is biased in their own ways, the easiest way to start feedback is to start with their own bias. If a reviewer is giving positive feedback, we might hear, “the person is great, easy to talk to, and fits our culture well,” without any specific examples to back up the statement. If a reviewer is giving negative feedback, we might hear, “the person doesn’t know anything that we ask them for, and they are not qualified.”

Some questions are questions that promote growth mindset:

ask for strength

  • What are areas of strength for this person?
  • Can you provide concrete examples that demonstrate those areas of strength?
  • How does this area of strength meet or exceed our expectation?

ask for growth

  • What are areas of growth for this person?
  • Can you provide concrete examples that demonstrate those areas of strength?
  • What type of effort is needed to help this person grow to meet our expectation?

By asking directed questions about strength and growth, we lay the foundation of a growth mindset that everyone can be better. By asking for concrete examples, we avoid general statements and aspire to be specific, and it encourages reviewers to give more thoughtful feedback. Setting baseline expectation is also crucial in having a productive conversation. It can be an interview rubric or career framework in the company.

By asking for the type of effort, we encourage reviewers to think about a person’s ability to grow and steer the feedback more towards specific examples. This type of feedback can help leaders decide team fit by looking at dynamics in a team by thinking about whether the person’s ability to grow has synergy with a larger team: can this person succeed on our team? can this person help the team to be successful?

Provide feedback with growth mindset

When we provide feedback with a growth mindset to others, we aspire to provide specific examples and avoid the generalization of a character. The feedback is based on specific behavior and how that behavior aligns with expectations and outcomes. Before providing feedback, it’s also important to establish expectations, sometimes in the form of rubrics, and discuss how is such behavior aligns with the expectation. One framework for giving feedback is TASKy - timely, actionable, specific, and kind. The framework can be rooted in a growth mindset, that every feedback can be an opportunity for growth.

provide feedback for strength

  • One area of strength is X. For example…
  • Given this situation, this is what I see you handle it, and this shows the strength because..
  • X is an area of strength, when you were working on X, the expectation is that.., and your behavior is..

provide feedback for growth

  • One area of growth is X. For example…
  • In this area of growth, the expectation is that…
  • To work towards this expectation, one effort to improve is…
  • We can measure the progress by working together on…

Providing feedback centers on aligning expectations, providing specific behaviors, and connecting behaviors with expectations. After reaching a common understanding, seeing the gap between behavior and expectation as a growth opportunity, and work together on action plans to extend existing ability.


Providing and asking for feedback is an art. By starting with a fundamental belief that everyone has the growth potential, and every feedback is an opportunity to grow, we can hone our craft of feedback and use feedback to build great teams.