Growth Mindset in Global Work: The Impact of the Belief of Malleability

flickr.com/plastilin boxes | by thedimka

In my last blog post I discussed Dweck’s mindsets theory and its implications in organizational settings, namely in relation to employees’ interests and inter-disciplinary problem solving skills. Today I would like to follow-up on the topic by looking more specifically into mindsets theory in the context of global work and expatriation.

Indeed, the possible impact of a growth mindset– namely the belief that our brains are able to learn and change, nothing is set in stone, and everything can be improved – seems to be universal to human action and achievement in any context. In a global work context, the need for a growth mindset echoes well with other notions, such as a startup mindset, for example. As discussed in one of my earlier posts, the currently volatile global market pushes multinationals to operate with innovativeness, agility and flexibility – all of which imply a readiness to learn, adjust and grow. Similarly, the urge for flexibility and adjustment is seen in the construct of a global mindset, which entails the willingness and motivation to be global, accept diversity, and adapt to different cultural contexts. In other words, relocating abroad or working in a multicultural environment does seem to be more effective when one is willing and ready to embrace the new, be it learning a new language, understanding a new culture, or building networks with new people. On the contrary, it also seems obvious that holding on to fixed mindset beliefs such as, ‘I am not good with foreign languages’, ‘I don’t have an outgoing personality’ or ‘I am better with numbers than people’, wouldn’t be of much help in the globally connected work environment.

Interestingly, research indicates that the beliefs we hold about human intelligence or abilities not only matter in terms of our personal motivations and interests, but also impact our relations with others. A recent study by Stanford University researcher Goldenberg and colleagues (2017) looked at intergroup contact in conflict situations and the role of mindsets as a factor influencing the willingness to engage in interaction with the other group. Previous research has indicated that a growth mindset, also referred to as incremental mindset, stands for the belief in the malleability not only of personal abilities and characteristics, but also in the malleability of others and groups (e.g. Halperin et al. 2011; 2012). Thereof, researchers hypothesised that changing participants’ perceptions of group malleability will increase the potential for cooperation during the encounter. In other words, the study investigated if changing participants’ beliefs towards a growth mindset will influence their willingness to interact with another group, even in cases of intractable conflicts.

To test the hypothesis, the researchers recruited students from Jewish-Israeli and Palestinian-Israeli middle schools, hence two groups, who are currently in active conflict. Students of both groups were then assigned either to an incremental condition or a control condition and underwent the three-meeting intervention before the final meeting, where the actual intergroup contact occurred. On both sides, students in the incremental condition participated in the workshops that aimed to develop a growth mindset, and thus were educated about the plasticity of the brain and the malleability of groups of people. Students in the control condition participated in the workshops that taught different coping skills. Based on the final sample of 141 participants, study results indicated an improvement in intergroup cooperation, which was achieved by tackling participants’ beliefs in group malleability. As such, the hypothesised facilitative influence of an incremental mindset on intergroup contact found supporting evidence.

Drawing on implications from the study results, the authors proposed that similar interventions might be of practical use to any kind of professionals, who have daily interactions with members of other groups. Given the potential tensions and intergroup conflicts in organizational settings, be it between different cultural groups in multicultural enterprises, between expats and locals, or headquarters and subsidiary employees, these study results look promising also for the world of global work. Hence, I would agree with the implications and propose that such workshops on developing incremental mindsets could be a valuable addition to any cross-cultural skills development programs and adjustment practices in organizations.

 

Further reading:

Goldenberg, A., Endevelt, K., Ran, S., Dweck, C. S., Gross, J. J., & Halperin, E. (2017). Making intergroup contact more fruitful: Enhancing cooperation between Palestinian and Jewish Israeli adolescents by fostering beliefs about group malleability. Social Psychological and Personality Science, 8(1), 3-10.

Halperin, E., Crisp, R. J., Husnu, S., Trzesniewski, K. H., Dweck, C. S., & Gross, J. J. (2012). Promoting intergroup contact by changing beliefs: Group malleability, intergroup anxiety, and contact motivation. Emotion, 12, 6, 1192-1195.

Halperin, E., Russell, A. G., Trzesniewski, K. H., Gross, J. J., & Dweck, C. S. (2011). Promoting the Middle East peace process by changing beliefs about group malleability. Science333, 6050, 1767-1769.

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