If I had one regret about my parenting is that I didn’t understand the importance of coaching my kid’s mental state when they were younger, especially in athletics. Now I’m playing catch up.
Because when it comes to human performance, whether yours, you child’s or one of your employees, there’s one factor that seems to carry more weight than all the rest.
And when you know what it is, it will change how you give performance feedback or deal with one of your kids at half time. So today I’m going to give you one simple yet powerful technique you can use with your employees or your kids to help them master their inner game so they show up in big ways on the field or in the boardroom.
My son plays ice hockey. In between periods when the players leave the ice, I leave the arena to warm up. Frostbitten fingers are the price you pay as a hockey parent.
Within a few minutes I will get a text from my son and then it’s time for me to put on my sports psychologist hat and dive in.
For years my son would lead with some kind of rant about his play.
“I suck so bad at hockey.”
“I can’t even hit the net.”
“I feel so slow out there.”
And I, being the good parent, would sit there for 10 minutes countering each criticism, with hard evidence from a more balanced reality. At times I felt like a criminal defense lawyer trying to prove to the judge that my client was innocent, or at least not as bad has he’s being made out to be.
Oh well, I think, at least he's passionate about the game.
Do you know anyone like this; someone whose too hard on themselves and magnifies their mistakes…maybe even you perhaps?
While it may seem commendable to focus on what needs to be better, it can also be a sign of a faulty mindset that will impair our development.
When it comes to improving, whether on the hockey rink, in the board room, or handling an unruly customer, a huge factor in the success of your people hinges on their mindset.
Stanford psychologist Carol Dweck in her book Mindset, wrote extensively about the differences between what she called a Growth Mindset versus a Fixed Mindset. In the book, she supplied a wealth of research on how the way you think can drastically affect your performance.
According to her, people with a Growth Mindset, see themselves as a work in progress, and are able to see failures as learning opportunities. I missed the net with that shot, but next time I’ll aim more to the right.
Those with a Fixed Mindset however, see abilities as more set; such as intelligence, you have it or you don’t. When they make mistakes it’s often more damaging to the ego which has been fused together with their skill set. I missed the net with that shot. I’m no good at hockey.
All of us probably have a bit of both mindsets to a varying degree.
One of the many problems with the Fixed Mindset is that it discourages people from taking risks, because risks come with a high chance of failure, and if failure is attached to who you are as a person then the stakes are even higher. But without risk, people don’t grow.
The other problem with a Fixed Mindset is that it stunts development. If I’m always hard on myself for every mistake I make then I’m not going to learn and make course corrections as quickly as I need to because I’m wasting valuable energy managing my own negative emotions.
Thirdly, the Fixed Mindset creates a fragile sense of confidence, which is hinged on the outcome. Like a house of cards, it can easily topple with one tiny mistake. But when employees have a Growth Mindset they base their confidence in themselves which leaves them more assertive in decision making, more collaborative, and less risk averse.
So how do you help an employee, or child for that matter, move away from a Fixed Mindset and embrace a Growth Mindset? It’s not always quick but with repetition you can help shift someone’s thinking about performance.
The LM/MO Technique
Here’s a simple tool that will do wonders. I call it the LM/MO technique which stands for Like Most/More Of. It’s incredibly effective thanks to an elaborate system that’s already hard wired into your brain.
Your brain is constantly protecting you from billions of bits of data each day. But your brain also has its own built in Google Alert system. You simply tell it what you want and it will scour the horizon looking for it. Did you notice that annoying billboard on your commute this morning? No? Because your brain protected you from it. While you were jamming to your favorite morning playlist, your eyes actually saw it as you drove by, but your brain said “Heck No!” You’re not coming in here.
Your brain acts like the bouncer at a night club. It only lets in what’s interesting and attractive and you get decide what is.
Thinking of buying a new Jeep Wrangler? Suddenly they’re everywhere. The truth is they were always everywhere but now that you’ve alerted your brain, it lifts the velvet rope to let in everything that has the word Jeep on it. It’s a pretty sweet system, but it can backfire.
Like when you focus on the wrong thing.
We are, in a sense, biased to notice the negative. It’s partly a survival mechanism to make sure we’re not doing something stupid that’s going to get us killed or perhaps fired from our job.
Focusing on our weaknesses can help us see mistakes to avoid next time but it also reestablishes a sense of control in our life that our own failures tend to upend. But focusing too much on our weaknesses causes the brain to become extra vigilant.
If an NFL kicker attempts a field goal and he’s focused on not making the mistake he made last kick, then he’s NOT focused on what he should be doing. The key is to guide the brain toward what it needs more of not less of. More of, is rooted in the future, less of, is still connected to the past.
As leaders we’re good at finding errors. It’s not our fault because it comes with the territory. One of our jobs is to make things better so we try to find out what’s not working and fix it. It’s also another reason why most workplaces are short on recognition. We have a hard time seeing the good things being done correctly all around us.
So how do you help an employee get better whose already hard on themselves? How do you help a staff member improve and build their confidence at the same time?
This is where the LM/MO technique really shines. It’s a dead-simple way to give your employees performance feedback and still build their confidence at the same time and it only consists of two questions.
What did you LIKE MOST about your performance?
What do you want to see MORE OF next time?
I’ll walk you through exactly how to do it.
1. Find a specific performance. The LM/MO technique is best applied to a specific performance, as apposed to something like a yearly review. This could be a presentation, the handling of a customer, leading a meeting, or how your daughter played during the first half of the soccer game etc.
2. Ask them: What did you like most about your performance? Sub out the word performance for whatever it is they did. i.e. What did you like most about how you played?
3. Reinforce what they say by affirming it.
4. Ask them: What do you want to do/see/ more of the next time.
5. Reinforce what they say and add in any tweaks or suggestions.
Here’s why it works:
The first question shifts their attention from mistakes they made to what went well. The second question deals with their mistakes but in a forward-looking context. Instead of dissecting an error, you’re getting them to focus on the correction of it for the future. This reinforces that failure or mistakes are part of the learning process. So instead of your manager saying they did a terrible job leading their meeting, they tell you what they want to do more of next time. I was short with the customer now becomes, next time I want be more patient when a customer is complaining about their food being lukewarm.
This may sound subtle but it’s huge.
After they've shared what they want to see more of next time, it’s your turn to either agree or make some other suggestions of what you would like to see more of as well.
So let’s look at an example of how one of these conversations might go with Jenny the nurse.
Manager: Hey Jenny,
What did you like most about your interaction with the patient in 34 C?
Jenny: I thought I did a good job explaining to her what tests I was going to run, and I tried to say something uplifting and positive to her.
Manager: Exactly, I thought you were fantastic and those little things go a long way in helping a patient feel calm and taken care of. What do you want to do more of the next patient that you visit?
Jenny: I think I’d like to linger just a few seconds longer after I ask them how they’re doing and not appear so rushed.
Manager: I think you’re right on with that one. And I’d like to add one more for you. I’d like to see you smile when you walk in the room. It really makes a difference when you enter a room like that.
If you’re dealing with your children, or any adults acting like children, then remember this does not come naturally and many people have a long history of self criticism. Take a look at an actual text exchange between my son and I during a hockey game which had huge stakes riding on it.
I laugh now but it was frustrating at the time, for him and for me. But focusing on everything that was wrong was not going to help his play for the remainder of the game.
The LM/MO technique is a dead-simple coaching tool to reinforce a Growth Mindset in your employees or your kids. Stick with it and eventually people will respond.
Here’s what to do next:
Find one employee who has a specific performance this week and then use the LM/MO technique to coach them. It will take you less than 5 minutes.