Overcoming the barriers to reflecting

The main enemy of reflection is, of course, the relentless pressure of time. I just have not got time to stop and reflect, we say to ourselves in offices across the world. But there is also a deeply rooted cultural tendency in many of us to assume that experts know best and that our opinion cannot possibly be of value. This habit of mind is acquired by some at school, when the realization dawns that in many examinations there are right and wrong answers regardless of the validity of the question!

Another aspect of this is the fear of failure. Colin Marshall here honestly describes a failure from which he has learned:

Somebody once said that mistakes are not worth making if you cannot learn from them. Contorted logic it may be, but it is also common sense.

Good recovery from mistakes says as much about an individual's or a company's competence or character as getting it right first time, in many ways more so. At British Airways, for example, we believed the British public wanted to accept us as a world airline, with world images as our symbols. We were wrong and set about listening closely to what our customers and the public at large were asking of us. The image has accordingly been very successfully adjusted and we have re-established a valuable, productive relationship with our customers.

It is refreshing to read such sentiments. All too often we hide behind experts. Shunryu Suzuki summarizes this attitude by saying: "In the beginner's mind there are many possibilities, but in the expert's there are few." It is a sad fact of increased competence that it seems to make people less willing to consider other possibilities or alternatives. It is, therefore, even more important to ensure that as you become more technically skilled in anything, you keep your mind open to feedback from others and evaluation from yourself.

Here are some other barriers to reflecting. How would you overcome them? What other barriers would you add?


Means of overcoming it

It's difficult to admit to making mistakes

You may get into trouble if you admit your mistakes

It's easier not to start a line of thinking that may lead to changes

Reflection is not real work

There is nowhere to reflect quietly

It's hard work thinking about why things work and don't work

One of the subtle ways in which feedback can sometimes seem to be a burden is because of the word "back." Busy people find it psychologically difficult to allocate time to looking at what has already happened, but are much more ready to invest their efforts in the future. (Of course, feedback is designed to help you avoid the mistakes of the past as you move forward, but it does not always feel like that to some.)

Mike Leibling, director of Trainset, has created a good way of overcoming this barrier. He calls it feedforward. It is an excellent technique for reflecting in a group and it has very powerful and immediate outcomes.

This how it works. Each person first identifies a problem, something they would like to learn to do more effectively. The person with the problem becomes the client and articulates the brief for their problem.

Here is an example from my own experience. An experienced speaker tells the group that he wants to include jokes in his presentations, but can never remember the punchline or the story if it is a complex joke. He asks for help.

Members of the group take it in turns to offer him advice, starting with "Maybe..." or "Perhaps..." The individual is only allowed to say "Thank you" after each suggestion when about two minutes have gone by. Advice might include:

♦ Maybe you could write it down.

♦ Perhaps you could have a mental rehearsal of the joke.

♦ Maybe you could imagine the joke as a series of images so you were clearer about its structure.

♦ Perhaps you could slow your delivery down.

♦ Maybe you could use cartoons instead.

♦ Perhaps you could try looking at people in your audience more directly rather than looking up in the air as you struggle to remember the joke.

As you may have guessed, the person asking for advice in this case was me. I was offered many more suggestions than the ones I have listed here, but the last one on the list has turned out to be just what I needed.

In this example, I was able to be very specific about my need. But it might be that you want to be more general in framing the "brief" you give as the client.

A Think of an area of your own life or learning that you would like help with and try this technique out with a group of colleagues or friends.

A reflective world

When Samuel Beckett said, "No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better," he was articulating an unusual view of the world. He seems almost to be glorying in failure. Perhaps Beckett had intuitively anticipated the NLP principle that there is no such thing as failure, only feedback.

Many people find writing a useful way of reflecting. Diary, journal, and log are all words that have come into our language from other spheres. The captain of a ship, for example, keeps a log, because without it, their vessel would have no record of its route or of the conditions that led to certain decisions being taken. The world in general seems to be divided into those who like to keep diaries and those who do not.

There is no doubt that the act of writing is itself mysterious, powerful and creative. You have already seen that in Will Hutton's words on page 198. Chris Mellor uses Anglian Water's intranet to write an occasional reflective column on what he has learned over a period of a few weeks. Many people find the journal format a satisfying one.

But, all modes of communication—writing, speaking, listening, and reading—have important roles to play in the process of reflection.

Look at this list of different approaches. How many of these have you tried? Which do you A prefer?

Keeping a diary. Writing letters to yourself.

Making up newspaper headlines that encapsulate how well you feel something went. Using unfinished sentences like "The best thing about...," "The thing I remember most is...," "That made me feel that."

Using sentences that involve all your senses:"I saw the.," "I heard that.," "When I touched the.," etc.

Using a mind map to capture your thoughts.

Using free-noting techniques.

Using pre-formatted templates with questions.

Writing down your feelings as events happen and keeping a note of the time. Telling your own version as a story.

^ Talking about good and bad moments.

Making a short "How did it go?" telephone call.

Talking to a colleague about an experience.

Listening to feedback from another colleague.

Being coached on aspects of your performance or learning.

Reading reports from other colleagues.

Quietly reflecting on your own.

You might like to try meditation. There are many different approaches to this, but they all tend to involve establishing a successful routine for reflecting at a deep level. This often includes the selection of a quiet, secure environment, closing your eyes, deliberate breathing, concentrated attention on a mantra or the sound of your own breathing in an attempt to clear the mind of its clutter, and the achievement of a slower brain rhythm, the alpha state that we have already explored.

Franz Kafka writes in his Reflections:

You do not have to leave your room. Remain sitting at your table and listen. Do not even listen, simply wait. The world will freely offer itself to you to be unmasked, it has no choice, it will roll in ecstasy at your feet.

These are exciting thoughts!

The benefits of meditation are well documented. They include:

♦ A refreshed state of mind.

♦ A more positive frame of mind.

♦ Better sleeping.

♦ Greater alertness.

♦ Increased happiness.

How To Accomplish More In A Fraction Of The Time

How To Accomplish More In A Fraction Of The Time

The pace and intensity of our lives, both at work and at home, leave several of us feeling like a person riding a frantically galloping horse. Our day-to-day incessant busyness too much to do and not enough time; the pressure to produce and check off items on our to-do list by each day’s end seems to decide the direction and quality of our existence for us.

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