Across a wide range of professional areas reflection is seen as a key skill. It is a key element of the Kolb Learning Cycle, that good old staple of many management and professional development programs. Reflection is seen as essential in order for the professional to evolve, develop, learn and move on in their career journey. The rewards are clear, e.g. self-improvement; the route is clear, e.g. look honestly at what you are doing; so why should it be difficult?
So what could be difficult about that? Well…erm…maybe the world ‘honestly’ presents something of a challenge. One of the most difficult things for any of us is to be self-critical; to attempt to appraise our own performance and/or skill set in an objective manner. We all invest in our self-image, so feedback which challenges our self-concept is difficult to deal with. Alternative options may be to:
1. just avoid the feedback;
2. discredit it, either overtly or in one’s own head;
3. run off narratives/excuses as to why it is not rationale.
Indeed, whilst coaching is an extremely positive developmental tool, our current coaching culture, across a range of professional sectors can sometimes be counterproductive. Sometimes, coaching can drift into skilled rationalisation for our behaviour which can interfere with honest self-assessment. Coaching was never meant to be used in this way. Honest self-reflection should be a part of a healthy coaching narrative.
Within organisations there is always an agenda of maintaining the existing culture. This usually cascades down from the top of the organisation and permeates every fact of the organisation. We hear of the *** method or the ********* way (*represents a letter in the organisation’s name). Thus effective performance is measured through the prism of organisation culture. Works a treat if the organisation has a healthy culture which reflects best practice, and this is the prism through effective performance by individuals or teams is being measured. However, if the organisation culture is not healthy, in some way(s), then the feedback coming to individuals or teams will be tainted by the unhealthy organisation culture. In such circumstances personal reflection requires a range of skills, not least the confidence and capability to do one’s own thinking.
So with both personal and organisational factors having to be overcome in order to reflect effectively then it is evident that professional reflection is indeed a challenge. For some professionals their training can enable reflection, e.g. those who have had a training in social sciences or related professions. However, many professional trainings, e.g. numerate professions, are not so enabling. Here I am not discounting that any individual may have particular strengths and experiences that enable their reflection skills.
So, whilst reflection may be a key professional skill, when we consider the variety of obstacles, e.g. ego defences and organisational culture, it is little wonder that it is so hard to do.