How Justification and Mindset are Related

I got interested in how justification and mindset are related after learning about the power of justification to manage the mindset of a negotiation counterpart. The role of justification in negotiation was explored in my podcast interview with Dr. Margaret Neale (, Professor of Management at Stanford University’s Graduate School of Business and author of Getting (more of) What You Want: How the secrets of economics and psychology can help you negotiate anything, in business and in life (

In my podcast interview with Dr. Neale, she explained the importance of a well-reasoned justification for what you want to get out of a negotiation. Dr. Neale made the point that you can’t control the mindset of your counterpart in a negotiation and many people come into a negotiation with a battle mindset. A battle mindset causes you to see your counterpart as the enemy so you are more likely to presume malevolent intentions by your counterpart. By providing a well-reasoned justification for an offer or a counter offer, you make your intention transparent which diffuses the assumption of malevolent intentions by your counterpart. So justification helps you manage undesired behavior from another person.

Let’s first look at the science of mindset. According to behavioral neuroscientist Stephanie Faye Frank, a mindset is our way of perceiving things ( Frank also points out that mindsets are beliefs based on neural circuits that have formed in our brains from the very limited set of interactions we have had on a regular day-to-day basis since we were born. The interactions we have in our lifetime are limited because they represent a miniscule percentage of all the types of interactions that are possible in the world. It turns out that we need to be with the same people day after day in order to form a belief neural circuit based on those interactions. The brain requires enough repetition to regard a belief as important enough to encode in a neural circuit. Because our beliefs form from repeated and limited interactions, than our beliefs can be helpful or limiting depending on how those interactions relate to what we are trying to do later. Once a belief is encoded by the brain in a neural circuit, the belief becomes part of our non-conscious brain and informs our thinking and behaviors often without our realization.

Mindsets can have big impacts on our behavior. One mindset that I learned about in my certification program for neuroleadership ( that is particularly powerful to learning is the growth mindset. Dr. Carol Dweck has shown in her research that a growth mindset correlates with high performance in learning situations and at work ( The opposite of a growth mindset is a fixed mindset. A fixed mindset means you believe that there is a limit to how far you can go in a given trait like creativity or getting along with others. Dr. Dweck found that a growth mindset correlates with higher sustained effort and greater perseverance compared to a fixed mindset because a growth mindset means believing you can improve with hard work and effort. Growth mindset has also been shown to be important to healthy competition (

Now let’s look at the science of justification. Justification is the why behind our judgments, decisions, wants and needs. Justification can come from the conscious brain or the non-conscious brain. As a scientist, I am quite familiar with the type of justification that comes from the conscious brain such as explaining the scientific logic behind a research finding. I am much less familiar with the type of justification that comes from the non-conscious brain such as why I decide to smile at only certain people during the course of my day. Regardless if the justification comes from the conscious or non-conscious brain, that justification is informed by the mindsets or beliefs that live in the non-conscious brain.

Now let’s look at the relationship between mindset and justification in ourselves. Mindsets, which are neural circuits in the non-conscious brain, inform both conscious and non-conscious justification, the support of judgments, decisions, wants and needs. Let’s consider the justification for how we approach a given work task. Our justification for how we approach a work task can be conscious or non-conscious. We might not think twice about why we approach a routine task like reading emails the way we do which would be an example of non-conscious justification. However, how we read emails may be limiting our overall work performance. An example of a work task requiring conscious justification would be being assigned to lead a team for the first time by your boss. Because it is your first time leading a team, you will likely think about what your approach will be and why – the justification for your approach. Your first team meeting may end up being a resounding success or a disappointing failure depending on the approach you choose and why you choose that approach – your conscious justification.

If you are not getting the best possible outcome from a work task, then it may be time to assess how your justification and mindset informing that justification are affecting your performance. There is a simple four-step process you can use to diagnose a work task not giving you the desired outcome and come up with a new approach that will improve the outcome. Let’s apply this four-step improvement process to the task of reading emails.

The first step to improve how you are reading emails is to ask yourself why you are reading emails the way you do. For example, let’s say you check your emails continuously throughout the day. Ask yourself why you do that to understand your justification for that behavior. Let’s say you do that because you are worried about missing something important. The second step to improvement once you uncover your justification for your behavior is to ask why again to reveal the mindset behind the justification. Let’s say the reason you are worried about missing something important is that this will make you a poor performer in the eyes of others. The third step to improvement once you have uncovered the mindset behind the justification is to ask how the justification and mindset affect your overall work performance. In this case, the constant reading of emails is a preventing you from focusing long enough on other tasks that could improve your performance from your boss’ perspective. The fourth and final step to improvement once you understand how the justification and mindset impact your performance is to look for a new mindset that has the potential to unlock a new level of performance. A new mindset in this case might be that performance is measured by how much value you create for the organization not by how many emails you read. Adopting the new mindset might lead to new behaviors like scanning email for important topics at the start and end of the day freeing up time to focus on other work tasks that would add more value to the organization. The new behaviors will enable you to improve your performance from your boss’ perspective.

While you can’t control your mindset since it comes from the non-conscious brain, you can reveal your mindset through examining your justification for behaving in a certain way. If your behavior is limiting your performance, then you will need to change the mindset or belief behind that behavior. You can’t change a mindset without knowing what the mindset is to begin with. Changing a mindset means changing the neural circuit associated with that mindset in the non-conscious brain. The good news is that we can change the wiring of our non-conscious brain. Neuroscientists have shown that we can change our neural circuits well into our old age ( The bad news is that changing a neural circuit is not easy – it takes intentional work. However, if a mindset is limiting your performance, then changing that mindset may well be worth the work needed as part of the journey to realizing your full potential.