In a world of constant input, so much to read, listen to and watch, and so many people to learn from it seems almost impossible to believe that we can learn from ourselves with no input.
Are you really allowing yourself to learn from your own actions and experiences? Are you quick to judge your experiences? When we feel under constant pressure to maximise value, spend so much time in meetings, constantly consuming inputs and producing outputs, time for reflection can look like a luxury or a folly.
Make learning the ultimate goal of every activity and interaction.
The Gibbs Reflective Cycle (1988) is in common use in many professions across the world, it has six straightforward stages:
- Description: of the experience
- Feelings and thoughts: about the experience
- Evaluation:of the experience, both good and bad
- Analysis: to make sense of the situation, your own actions and responses
- Conclusion about what you learned and what you could have done differently
- Action plan: for how you would approach/change your approach to similar situations in the future.
The cycle is equally relevant to help us to reflect on a major event or timeframe (such as “My last 10 years in this job” or a small event or encounter (such as “Two minute elevator ride with the Chief Exec.”).
We can use the framework to reflect on all common BA activities, such as workshops, interviews and outputs we produce.
This is the narrative without commentary. No value judgements, no evaluation, just what happened.
- What was the situation and context?
- Who was involved?
- What did I say and do?
- What did I see and hear?
2. Feelings and thoughts
This what was going through my mind at the time, how the situation made me feel. This is not about asking ‘why was I so nervous?’ or ‘what made me angry?’ just identifying the thoughts and feelings.
- What was I thinking at the time and now?
- What where my expectations?
- How did I feel?
- How do I think others felt?
This stage allows us to make judgements about the experience. Was it good/ great/ ok or terrible? But we still don’t try to answer why we feel that way about the experience.
- Did I enjoy it or not?
- What was good and bad?
- What went well/ not so well?
- How did the reality compare to the expectation?
Now for the why.
- Why did I feel that way?
- Why did I act that way/ say that/ do that?
- Why did things go well/ not so well?
- Why did that happen? (What else do I know that helps me to make sense of the situation?)
This brings together all the previous questions, a chance to summarise and create key take-ways from the situation.
- What did I learn?
- How will I recap the situation to others?
- What skills do I need to develop to get a better outcome next time?
6. Action Plan
So what, if anything, needs to happen next? This stage allows us to identify a range of actions, which might be ‘keep doing what I am doing’ or might indicate a different approach in future.
- What will I do differently/ the same?
- How will I develop the skills I have identified?
- How will I put into practice the conclusions I have made?
- How will I apply what I have learned?
- How will I celebrate success?
A common question BAs are asked (and ask ourselves) is “How was the workshop?”
Common answers might include:
- “It was great, thanks for asking.”
- “The room was hot.”
- “I think everyone enjoyed it. We got some good feedback.”
- “I’m exhausted.”
- “We had some last minute drop-outs.”
These answers are a scatter-gun of thoughts, facts, feelings and evaluation. We are better than this! Let’s take a logical approach:
Description: There were 15 people, from 4 departments. 3 people sent their apologies on the day. We had a mix of whole-group and break-out sessions, and the workshop lasted 3 hours with a short break. A couple of people had to leave early.
Thoughts and feelings: Before the session I was nervous, and then a bit frustrated when I found out some key people weren’t coming. I hoped people would come with the right attitude, and also worried we had a lot to cover in the time. I knew I was well prepared for the session.
Evaluation: I enjoyed it, we did manage to stick to time, but it was a bit rushed at the end. People seemed to be happy to contribute. The groups worked well, and I was pleased to see a range of different people give feedback. It got a bit noisy with three groups all working close to each other. Once we got started I wasn’t nervous anymore, but I found it difficult to bring the room back together after the break-outs.
Conclusion: I think three hours might be too long for people, so perhaps split the session down. This would take also take some of the pressure off me, I had to do so much prep work! Thinking about the groups in advance really helped though.
Action Plan: I am going to send a thank you email to everyone, we worked hard today. Next time I am going to book two rooms, so we can spread out a bit, and I am also going to phone people the day before and confirm with them they can attend or send a representative. We will limit it to two hours, and I will have better eye on timings, either by nominating a time keeper or setting a timer.
Applying the logical steps to structure a thorough response takes a little longer than a one word answer – but still only takes a few minutes and the learning is so much greater!
Self-reflection is critical to self-development. Self-awareness and personal development can also be achieved through feedback, but feedback without the power of self-reflection is wasted.
It is hard to reflect, and is even harder to avoid equating reflection with evaluation. Allowing ourselves to make more time for structured reflection can help with every aspect of our lives. Its time to start asking ourselves questions, and finding our own answers.
Further reading: Gibbs G (1988). Learning by Doing: A guide to teaching and learning methods.