How Your Mindset Affects Mediation Results


How Your Mindset Affects Mediation Results

Do you relish or recoil at the thought of a challenge? When you fail at something, do you think it reflects on you as a person or does it simply mean you need to try a different strategy? Do you feel the need to prove yourself to others or to learn from them?

These are some important questions that get to the heart of what psychologists call the mindset. The mindset is a fundamental way we look at the world and our place within it. Much of what we tend to think of as our personality actually grows out of our mindset.

In this blog post, I reflect on renowned Stanford University psychologist Carol S. Dweck’s landmark motivational book, Mindset: The New Psychology of Success. I examine how mindsets work at mediation and, more importantly, how to get your mindset to work for you.

Two Mindsets: Fixed Vs. Growth

We’ve all heard of the nature versus nurture debate. Are people born a certain way or does their environment shape who they become? Neuroscientist Gilbert Gottlieb suggests we dispense with looking at nature versus nurture as an either/or question. Not only do both our genes and our environment cooperate as we develop, Gottlieb says our genes actually need input from the environment to work properly.

Nevertheless, nature versus nurture neatly summarizes what Dweck defines as the two types of mindsets: the fixed mindset and the growth mindset.

People with a “fixed mindset” tend to believe their qualities are carved in stone – that a person only has a certain amount of intelligence, a certain personality, and a certain moral character. If these qualities are seen as fixed, people tend to try to prove themselves over and over again. In essence, if you don’t show people you have these qualities in ample amounts, you may be prone to thinking others will see you as deficient.

Contrast this idea with a “growth mindset.” A person with this belief views the hand they are dealt as only the beginning of where they will end up. Qualities can be cultivated with effort, application and experience. With this in mind, why waste time trying to prove yourself when you can challenge yourself to get better?

Developing a Mindset

How do people come to hold these fundamental beliefs? Dweck suggests what we hear from people around us as we are growing can certainly lead us in one direction or another.

If your parents, teachers, coaches and others praise your ability or talent for something, you tend to internalize it. You may hear “He did well on that test; he’s so smart!” or “She drew such a beautiful picture; she’s a natural artist.” If the words used tend to focus on the effort you’ve put into something or how you’ve improved after an early setback, you begin to see that what qualities you have is much less important than how you use them.

Having a fixed mindset can lead a person to live in a way where they see every situation as a call to confirm the qualities they believe they have. Success or failure is something that defines them. In contrast, having a growth mindset tends to make a person see a situation as an opportunity to refine something you already do well or learn how to do something better. Success or failure do not define them, but simply confirm that a strategy works or that another strategy is needed.

You Have Both Mindsets 

If you think one of these mindsets sounds more positive than the other, you’re right. People with a fixed mindset are less likely to flourish than those who adopt a growth mindset. Believing that growth is possible unlocks potential that would go otherwise go unrealized.

Before thinking up all sorts of examples to prove to yourself that you have a growth mindset, let me break the bad news to you. You have a fixed mindset… in at least some areas of your life. Unless you are some sort of super-human fully self-actualized person, there will be times when you will probably be concerned by how your actions will be judged by others. You may find there are times you take the easier path than the one that is uncertain and where failure is a distinct possibility simply because you feel you need “a win.”

Now, the good news. Everyone is capable of shifting their thinking towards a growth mindset. Knowing this, let’s bring the mindsets into a mediation room.

The Mindsets at Mediation

When courts try civil matters and a judge and/or jury is asked to pass judgment or deliver a verdit, the parties are bound to feel a sense of success or failure depending on the result. If you are a lawyer or an insurance claims professional who will see many files and matters in their careers, you may look at your win/loss record as a way to judge your worth and ability. Alternatively, while hoping for success, you may choose to focus on what you’ve learned in each case as it may help you in the future. Perhaps you do a little of both.

Plaintiffs, particularly in personal injury cases, are much more likely to see these cases as “one and done.” After all, no one wants to sustain a serious personal injury even once in their lives, let alone twice or more. For these people, it’s much more difficult not to take the success or failure of a case personally. Quite simply, it will be a judgment on their personal injury. 

Hopefully, your mediator’s mindset will be open to growth. If they can convince others around the table to adopt this kind of lens, it can make a world of difference to negotiations.

As opposed to the judgment of an external decision maker, the parties at mediation are striving to come together to reach a mutually beneficial agreement. Unfortunately, if you view success as a zero-sum game, this can be difficult. Reframing this idea as a chance to create a win-win scenario – where everyone at the table can walk away feeling they have accomplished something – is important to build a sense of cooperation.

Avoiding The Pitfalls of False Growth Mindsets

We’d all like to think we’ll know when we’re operating from a growth mindset, but the potential to fool ourselves into thinking we’re using one is very real. 

Believing you are “open-minded” or “flexible” is not the same as being dedicated to fostering your abilities. There is always an opportunity to learn.

Moreover, one of the points Dweck stresses in her book is that effort alone isn’t sufficient to attain a growth mindset (after all, people with a fixed mindset can work very hard too). Rather, the process itself is a key factor for growth. A good effort not only includes hard work, but also trying new strategies and seeking input from others as needed.

Finally, adopting a growth mindset does not mean telling yourself you can do anything. There are certain limitations we must be aware of in any situation. Simply believing there is a potential for a mutually agreeable settlement is not enough – you must develop the appropriate skills and use the necessary resources in order to achieve such a goal.

Concluding Thoughts

It would be a bit much to expect that within the span of several hours of mediation that something as fundamental as a person’s mindset could radically change. Striving to adopt a growth mindset takes dedication and continual practice.

Nevertheless, knowing that these two mindsets are likely at work amongst participants (and quite possibly within yourself) can help you adapt your own strategy and the way you interact with other parties or your client(s). This can be as simple as knowing that in order to achieve what you want, you’ll need to offer up “a win” of some kind to your opponent. Perhaps, if you sense talks are about to stall, you propose an alternative means to discuss a proposal. 

And, if you see that growth and movement is possible among the parties but not fully realized, remind everyone that you can change your perspective greatly by adding one word to any statement suggesting failure: YET. “We haven’t been able to come to an agreement… yet. But I feel that setting up a second mediation or continuing talks or gathering some missing information or documentation will get us there.”

Having a facilitator who can challenge participants to think outside the box and find concrete ways to build common ground can make all the difference when one or more people appear stubbornly fixed on an idea or outcome. I’m happy to report that the team at Cooper Mediation is determined to offer such services and believes that such skills are perpetually honed through professional development and thoughtful debriefings.


Vance Cooper, Toronto Mediator and ArbitratorVance Cooper is principal of Cooper Mediation Inc. Vance devotes 100% of his professional time to mediating and arbitrating primarily personal injury and insurance cases. He serves as an arbitrator in loss transfer and priority disputes under the Insurance Act.

Vance can be reached at or (647) 777-4011.

To schedule a mediation with Vance, visit:

Cooper Mediation