Reflection is an attainable, powerful tool that sits at the heart of soft skills.
That’s because it’s only by reflecting on our other skills (adaptiveness, communication, empathy), that we are able to grow and develop them.
When we reflect, we work to increase our self-awareness. This, in turn, boosts confidence, decision-making and creativity and strengthens our relationships and collaboration with others.
So if we understand the inherent power of reflection, why is there such a gap between theory and practice? And why is it that so many of us don’t know how to do it ‘right’?
Reflection can be uncomfortable. Often, it involves thinking about our mistakes, uncovering home truths and then making work for ourselves in considering which of our behaviours need to change.
It’s also time-consuming – why should we spend time ‘navel-gazing’, the argument goes, when there’s so much work to be done?
Reflection requires courage. Whether we’re examining our own expectations and reactions, or taking on board others’ perspectives, reflection calls us to be open and inquisitive.
And if done right, it is time well-invested. Without reflection, we’re likely to make the same mistakes over and over again, without considering a change of approach.
We don’t really understand ‘self-awareness’ and that limits the power of reflection.
Organizational psychologist and researcher, Tasha Eurich, explains that there are two different kinds of self-awareness: internal and external. Internal self-awareness represents how clearly we understand our own values, aspirations, reactions and behaviours. External self-awareness means understanding how others view us. In the study, managers with higher external self-awareness tended to build stronger relationships, and were seens as more empathetic and effective in their role.
We need both types. With only internal self-awareness, we become too introspective and fail to see our own weak spots. With only the external, we become people-pleasers and overlook what really matters to us.
Journaling our day might help build internal self-awareness (‘How did I respond to that situation? How could I handle it better next time?’) but it limits our reflective practice to the boundaries of our own thoughts and ideas.
In order to gain true value from reflection, we need to admit other perspectives.
A mindset for reflection
Reflection isn’t about focusing solely on what went wrong. It’s also about thinking about what worked, and perhaps what was surprising and unexpected.
Research reported in Harvard Business Review revealed that reflection tended to fall into three themes: surprise, frustration and failure. Reflections that involved one or more of these elements tended to be the most valuable learning points among the executives studied.
So perhaps the first step in adopting a reflective practice is to reframe the ‘negative’ parts of our day – our mistakes, our frustrations, the ‘curveballs’ thrown our way – as the richest seams to mine for growth and learning.
Eurich’s study also found that, as power and experience increased, managers tended to overvalue their skills, were less accurate at assessing their leadership efficacy and found it more challenging to obtain open, honest feedback.
In order to combat these tendencies, we need to cultivate a growth mindset – to embrace failures as learning opportunities, and to accept criticism.
And if we’re to include external self-awareness here, it means establishing trust and psychological safety amongst those who are offering feedback.
In organisations where there is psychological safety, teams and their managers are likely to benefit from better reflective practices, because there is no blame culture or fear of ramifications.
Taking the time to reflect
Whilst we might have a theoretical understanding of the importance of reflection, building this into a practice requires time and sustained effort.
It can be difficult to know where to begin, and how to contextualise our findings.
The Belbin methodology frames our behaviour in terms of nine Team Roles – nine clusters of behaviour which consist of strengths and corresponding weaknesses.
Once you’ve completed your own Self-Perception Inventory (your internal self-awareness), you’ll be asked to obtain feedback from others in your team, called Observer Assessments (the external part).
The Belbin Individual report produced gives you a rounded picture of your behaviours at work, which helps you better understand your responses to particular situations.
Armed with this knowledge, you’ve got a working document to aid your reflective practice, helping you hone your strengths, build resilience and develop strategies for professional growth.
For more information about how Belbin improves self-awareness, please visit www.belbin.com.
About the author – Victoria Brown is head of Research & Development at Belbin HQ.