Restrictive v enabling mindsets

Last week I spent a decent couple of hours (in between a day of rheometry measurements) reflecting on a challenging situation I had encountered as part of my Introduction to Academic Leadership course, of which this was the last module I had to complete: “Managing myself in challenging situations”. Given the nature of a PhD, and my work with teaching and gender equity, I find myself in challenging situations/conversations more often that you would expect. And honestly, a lot more often that I enjoy.

I have written many of formal reflections during my PhD, mainly as part of my teaching training, but I found this one far less pleasant. It brought up a lot of feelings that I had tried to forget – mainly the powerlessness I felt as a PhD student involved in a conflict. After going through this module, I know that constitutes a restrictive mindset, which does not leading to a productive/positive outcome. Add to that my stubbornness (which I admit at the time of my challenging situation, was less in check than it is now), it was almost as far from an enabling mindset as you could get.

Reflecting, it was interesting that the typical ‘stories’ that lead to a restrictive mindset did not apply to me (doubt in abilities, negative self-talk) – in fact, I realized that it was actually my sense of justice (“this is just plain wrong”) and my direct manner which generally lead me into such challenging situations. To my credit at the time, I did acknowledge that my diplomacy was, perhaps not my strongest suit, so I did read the “Cruical Conversations” book. I remember feeling again, hopeless, because although I might be able to develop an enabling mindset, if the other person is adamantly stuck in a restrictive one, it makes it very hard to move forward.

In this respect, I am sure that instead of giving into hopelessness and maintaining an enabling mindset, I could have save myself a whole lot of pain (specifically – anxiety). This makes me think that an enabling mindset doesn’t necessarily mean getting a win out of every conversation, but maybe it is about winning in your own way – less stress and anxiety, more practice in managing your natural response which can lead to a restrictive mindset. Conveniently, this relates to a MOOC I am currently completing (Inclusive Leadership Training: Leading with Effective Communication, by CatalystX on EdX), which focusses on the implementation of courage in communication – so, having the courage to step outside your comfort zone and engage with people who are different (i.e. in some cases this may be just because they disagree with you!). Seeking to understand another’s perspective and their drivers (or, their ‘story’) is one of the key lessons from this course, which leads to a more enabling mindset.

So, sometimes I have to put aside who is right or wrong, and work towards a better understanding of the other person. And then, maybe I can find a solution with two enabling mindsets working together!


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