The art of reflective practice – for our work and for ourselves.

When a new year begins, we often reflect on our last year and ponder on our future and coming year. At the start of 2020, my article New Starts-New Beginnings was on intentions for the coming year that also had the element of reflection in it. Interestingly, when you look at the definition of ‘to reflect’ or ‘reflection’ it has a number of different definitions based on how you are using the term. Which made me think about the notion that reflection isn’t just looking at what we have done in the past, it is more about looking at the past as a mirror providing information for the future.

In this article, I want to explore what being reflective and having a reflective ‘practice‘ means for us as Coaches, in Mentor Coaching, in Coach Supervision and importantly for who we are, simply a human being.

Reflection as a Coach

(See also our previous article: The Science and Art of Reflecting, summarising & paraphrasing)

In the competency of Listens Actively, the role of reflection as a coach is to be that of a mirror for our client. To offer what we are hearing, seeing, or feeling as a result of something the client said or did that might be useful information for the client. A simple example is when someone is talking about the different choices they face, we might play back the emotion they displayed for certain choices. Whether lacking energy or displaying excitement, it can be useful for the client to know and acknowledge their response. Exploring that energy may then support the client to understand more deeply the decision they need and want to make.

The information gained has the possibility of supporting the learning of the client and providing them the opportunity for further reflection during and after the session. What can be forgotten is that much of the work of coaching happens outside of the session and reflection is a critical part of moving forward.

Reflection as a Mentor Coach or a coach being mentored

As a Mentor Coach, there are aspects of mentoring which will require the mentor and the mentee to reflect on a session that the mentee has brought for review. From a mentor’s perspective, the reflection is about what has been said and what possibly has been missed by the mentee in the session. That can inform the mentor as to the questions to ask the mentee about their session and informs the feedback the mentor will provide. For the mentee it is also useful for them to reflect on their session through the same lens of competencies (and PCC Markers) that the mentor uses, to support them to reflect on their own competency and development needs. In this arena, it’s a more technical reflection.

Some questions for the coach/mentee that might be useful to reflect upon might be:

  • What did I do well and what competency or competencies might that link to?
  • What competencies were least evident? How could I bring those into my coaching more?
  • What might I have missed as I look back on the session?
  • What might I have done instead?
  • What will I do differently in the future that might be useful to my clients?

The Mentor  Coach may ask very similar questions, however even if you don’t have a mentor, it is always useful to self-reflect on a client session. This raises the idea that wherever possible, it can be very useful to record every session, with the client’s permission. The client may also find it very useful to be able to play back and reflect on their own session as well.

This information gained supports the development of the coach and hopefully the clients of the coach.

Reflections as a Coach Super-Visor or in Super-Vision

In a coach supervision partnership, the onus is very much on the Supervisee to bring their reflections into the room for sharing and discussion. Rather than reflect on Competency, as done in a mentor coaching relationship, it is more about what patterns, themes, behaviours the coach is noticing in their coaching relationships. They may have part of a coaching session that demonstrates this, or they can bring their own reflective evidence to a supervision session which can then be unpacked and unpicked together with their supervisor.

In a coaching relationship, the client often brings a more ‘doing’ question, and by finding answers there is hopefully learning. In a supervision relationship the Supervisee often brings more of a ‘being’ question and the learning from the reflection and exploration can lead to a doing and being answer.

Some reflective questions for Supervision may be:

  • What conscious or unconscious bias do I notice?
  • What patterns might I notice across my coaching practice?
  • How was my balance between doing and being a coach? (who is working harder, my clients or me?)
  • What ethical considerations might there be that I am noticing?

Reflections simply as ourselves

(See also our previous article: Celebrate what is right with your world)

Finally, we come to the practice of reflection purely for ourselves. Not in our professional practice, more for who we are, who we want to be and what we want from the future. So, my offering this year, in combination with the two blogs which started the year in 2020 and 2021, is to invite questions that might look something like this:

Look in your mirror and reflect on the past:

  • What did you learn in the last year that was useful and that you can take with you?
  • What will you leave behind?
  • What did you enjoy doing, seeing or being with?
  • What successes did you have, no matter how big or how small?
  • What do you know about yourself now that you were not aware of before?

Use that information to create your future:

  • What will I carry over from the previous year?
  • What adventures would I like moving forward?
  • What experiences would I like to have?
  • What will I need in the coming year and beyond?
  • What will be important to me in the coming year?
  • How will I know that I have had a fulfilling year?

From my perspective, it’s not just about reflecting on the past that’s important, it’s about how you use that information to inform and create your future and just don’t leave it always to chance.

We can use the formula of what will you Stop/Start/Continue. However, I like to be more specific and go deeper. Just like in coaching, for lasting change to happen we need to go from the transactional to the transformational.

Ultimately, my conclusion is that regardless how, where or when we use the practice of reflection, the purpose is to provide information. Information that might be useful to move forward into the future, based on reflective observations.

May your mirror create useful reflections to enable you to have the best future possible! 

Hilary Oliver, MCC

Hilary Oliver is a Master Certified Coach (MCC) with the International Coaching Federation (ICF). She is a trained Coaching Supervisor and Mentor Coach. Hilary trains coaches internationally and works with managers and leaders to develop their coaching capability and their leadership skills. She works as an international Corporate Executive and Board Level Coach, a leadership development designer and facilitator working with a wide range of organisations. Hilary also specialises in working with organisations to support them develop coaching culture. She has been the President of the ICF United Kingdom Chatper (2012) and was Chair of the ICF Global Board in 2017.

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