Being Present for Reflection by Naomi Dishington
In August, the good coaches wrote about cultivating presence. This month, I will briefly discuss one of the added benefits of being present, which is the ability to reflect.
The word “reflection” derives from the Late Latin word “reflexio,” and one of its definitions is “the act of bending back.” By engaging periodically in focused reflection, we will discover that bending back actually helps to propel us forward. Good coaching will facilitate this process of analytical self-discovery.
So, how does coaching, which is focused mainly on the FUTURE, use reflection, which is largely focused on the PAST, to help achieve presence, which is about right NOW?
The goal of coaching is to facilitate growth and change in an individual or group. If we think of reflection as “the process by which experience is turned into knowledge,” it is clear that reflection lies at the center of the learning process. (Gilbert & Trudel, 2001) In “bending back” to consider a past event or pattern, we learn to analyze our thoughts, feelings and actions. Coaching provides some structure around this process and helps us make transformative adjustments based on our reflections. For example,
- What worked well?
- What didn’t go as planned?
- How did it feel?
- What did you learn?
- What would you like to do differently in the future?
You may be wondering why you need a coach to benefit from reflection. If you are like many people, you might feel some anxiety about slowing down long enough to reflect. After all, modern society praises action, decisiveness, and movement. Who has time to unplug, sit and reflect? Many of us do not prioritize slowing down, turning inward, or being present. We might also be unsure about where to focus our attention during reflection. Perhaps we don’t know which questions to ask ourselves? Working with a coach can help you overcome these barriers, because he/she brings a framework that guides the process.
One part of that framework is the use of questions that guide the reflective process. Depending on the client’s stated goals, these might include:
- Clarifying questions - the coach guides the client to recall significant events and describe his/her feelings, actions or thoughts
- Consequential questions - the coach helps the client determine the cause and effect of certain actions or beliefs
- Linking questions - the coach prompts an examination of possible connections between the circumstances around a situation and the personal beliefs, values, and goals of a client (Barnett, 1995)
(When asking questions of this nature, a coach must keep in mind the professional boundary between coaching and therapy, but assuming he/she is working with mentally healthy adults, these questions are appropriate in a coaching setting.)
In addition to asking insightful questions, coaches might also suggest reflective journaling assignments. One useful journaling template, suggested by D. Francis (1995), includes the following prompts:
- Describe – what did I do? (without judgement)
- Inform – what does this mean? (patterns or beliefs behind behavior)
- Confront – how did I come to be this way? (examining social/cultural aspects)
- Reconstruct – how could I do this differently? (alternative views)
A third tool that a coach uses is literally reflecting back the words, thoughts, and feelings they hear. A coach might say, “You sound hesitant about that,” or “I hear some anger in your voice,” or “Your eyes lit up when you said that.” Having a coach reflect back to you is crucial to developing your own reflective practice. And being given the silent space to process all of it is priceless.
As you continue to cultivate your ability to be present, I hope you will consider developing your reflective skills as well. The two competencies really are mutually beneficial.
“Follow effective action with quiet reflection. From the quiet reflection will come even more effective action.”
Peter F. Drucker
Barnett, B. (1995). “Developing Reflection and Expertise: Can Mentors Make the Difference?” Journal Of Educational Administration, 33(45).
Francis, D. (1995). “The Reflective Journal: A Window to Preservice Teachers’ Practical
Knowledge.” Teaching and Teacher Education, 11(3), 229-241.