Self-reflective Practice

December 10, 2021

A few weeks ago, I visited one of my best friends from high school. I was ushered to her porch and there she sat listening to Michael Jackson’s “Man in the Mirror”. and I was so excited! I hadn’t heard the song in years! However, the lyrics made me pause and think. I kept asking myself, “how often do you look in the mirror, Margaret, and what do you look out for when you look into the mirror?”


Now I would like you to pause for a moment and imagine yourself looking into a mirror, what do you see as a learning and development professional? I am sure, you are wondering “For what reason would Mrs. J ask me to imagine myself looking into a mirror?”. Well, self-reflection is like looking into a mirror and describing what you see. It is a way of assessing yourself, your ways of working, and how you study. In this article, I would like to focus on self-reflection by learning and development professionals.

Self-reflection does not imply excessive self-congratulation or self-criticism. It is looking into the mirror and describing exactly what you see. You must be objective and honest with yourself when you engage in self-reflection. A reflective practitioner does not criticize or berate themselves neither do they puff themselves up undeservedly; instead, they seek ways to improve, taking professional responsibility for their development.

Let’s take a moment to discuss some of the benefits of self-reflection. What’s in it for you as a professional?


Skill Development

Reflective practice exposes you to new professional skills or enables you to perfect a skill. By taking a step back and evaluating your approach to work, you're enabling yourself to think of new solutions. Reflecting helps you to develop your skills and review their effectiveness, rather than just carry on doing things as you have always done. It is about questioning, in a positive way, what you do and what makes you do it and then deciding whether there is a better, or more efficient, way of doing it in the future. For example, if learners are not answering the questions you pose to them in the classroom as a trainer, you may have to ask yourself what you do. Is it because the questions are so vague that learners are not clear what you are asking? Or do they contain too many parts, leaving the participants unsure what part they are supposed to address? As a self-reflective practitioner, you will probe deep to find out what makes you ask loaded questions for example, in searching for answers you may realize that you may have to limit your questions to one point at a time. By engaging in self-reflection, you will eventually improve your skills.


Build better relationships

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Self-reflection is the process of looking at your behavior and thinking about alternatives for the future. By taking responsibility for yourself, you can build better and more positive relationships with clients. Have you ever looked back and cringed at something you’ve done or said, or even how you said it? Instead of wallowing in regret at something you have said for example to your learners, or done during a coaching session, self-reflection enables you to think about how you could have done things differently. Could you have offered more help? Could you as a coach have taken into consideration your client’s beliefs and values? Could you have taken more time to consider your actions? Maybe you could have offered stronger guidance. Solutions and opportunities to build stronger relationships with clients, customers, and employees only present themselves when you make time for self-reflection.


Big-Picture Thinking

Daily self-reflection helps you make sense of the world and your place in it. When you’re aware of what matters most to you, you’re less likely to get side-tracked by petty details — and better able to put things in perspective. You’ll become a big-picture thinker. Yes, your self-awareness will make it easier for you to stand outside yourself and your emotions (as well as those of other people). That is when, to paraphrase Marcia Reynolds, as a coach you can help your clients see better and not feel better. Your job as a coach is realized because you are then able to ask powerful questions that will unleash the potential in your clients. They will start looking deep to come up with solutions that will solve their unique problems. That is when as a training facilitator, you start by asking powerful questions to unearth the performance needs of the organization. Is it to increase sales by a certain percent or is it reduce the rate of defects by a certain percent instead of just looking at course instead of the performance needs of the organization? You will probe to find out if indeed it is training that is needed or not (will training solve the performance needs or is it processes that need to be refined, tools that need to be made available to the target group, etc). Becoming a big-picture thinker makes it much easier to be fully present without being overwhelmed and from there, you can see what you.

“Never forget to remain a student while you teach others”.

                                                                    Jerry Cortsen


Less Stress and Anxiety

The more self-aware you become, the less likely you are to worry about what could happen, what hasn’t happened yet, or what might happen. I’m not saying you’ll suddenly stop feeling anxious; but if you’re more aware of the reasoning behind the anxiety, you can offer a counterargument to yourself based on things you know to be true. Look at it this way, you have prepared well in advance for your training program, you stand in front of your class or behind your laptop (if the training is online) and the quacking ducks start telling you that it is not going to be easy. You are an imposter; you will not be able to handle difficult situations in class. You will be able to tell yourself for example, that “I am prepared, and preparation is key. I know what Ida Shessel the Canadian Instructional designer says I can do to counteract anxiety and nervousness when training. I am not going to be the only person speaking. I will allow others to speak, I have built-in activities to make my session engaging. I have a solid training framework and I am a competent and certified trainer”.

Thoughts are powerful. And your thoughts — when you’re living more consciously — can help you weather the storms, even if you can’t prevent them from happening.


Better Decision-Making

With self-reflection, you become more aware of your inner voice and all that it’s trying to tell you.

With that stronger connection, you’ll find it easier to make decisions. That inner voice knows things. And it doesn’t waste time on unimportant details. The more self-aware you are, the less distracted you’re likely to be by other people’s opinions and other mental clutter. And that means you can think more clearly. You can focus on the training session. As a self-reflective practitioner, you can analyze the situation when you are running out of time. For example, if the reason is that you are allowing discussions to run too long, you will be able to pick from the options available to you. Are you going to look at the clock? Use the parking lot to put an end to discussions nicely? Tie somebody’s comment to the next point you want to make and progress forward from there? Shorten the work time for the next activities by a minute or two each to account for work time overruns? Shorten break times slightly to account for work time overruns? Or use a combination of these strategies.

high five

You know what? Clear thinking leads to breakthroughs.

I would like to share a few areas that you can reflect on:

  • Your recent performance at work
  • Your strengths and weaknesses
  • Areas where you need to improve
  • Recent situations that you could have handled differently
  • Outcomes of your recent work, could they have been different (In terms of coaching recent session, with training in could be your last training session)?
  • Your process and current way(s) of working
  • The impact of your work

In my next article, I will talk about tools and techniques for self-reflection.



Marcia Reynolds (Author), Tiffany Williams (Narrator), Berrett-Koehler Publishers (Publisher), ©2020 Marcia Reynolds (P)2020 Marcia Reynolds, Coach the Person, Not the Problem: A Guide to Using Reflective Inquiry