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The Importance of Self-Reflection in Coaching

March 3, 2022

Posted by BOLDLY

Self-reflection is an essential aspect of a successful career coaching experience. Through questioning and dialogue in the coaching session, as well as structured ‘homework’ and discovery between sessions, the coach and coachee are building meaning from the coachees experience, and this meaning or ‘knowing’ essentially gives the coach and coachee more information to draw on when making future career decisions. It’s the pursuit to observe and identify our own thoughts, feelings and impulses, and determine whether they are grounded in reality or not, bringing them to conscious acknowledgement so they can be reviewed and ‘interrogated’ in the effort to align with reality. Without insights about how the coachee works, what’s important to them, why key events have taken place, what others around them need, how they impact the context around them… and so much more, a coaching engagement can’t reach its full potential. 

While some people are prone to self-reflection, others spend little time enquiring and ‘going inwards’ for discovery and insights, however self-reflection is a skill, and a muscle that can be developed like anything else. So how is it done? First let's consider the layers of self-reflection. 

1. Habitual action — “In professional practice, habitual action occurs when a procedure is followed without significant thought about it.” (p. 373). Considering the coachee, this might be known as auto-pilot (i.e. the coachee has a problem with time management, and is constantly late to meetings and impacting colleague productivity and causing their own work bottlenecks, but it’s aware of the repercussions of their actions). 

2. Understanding — In this case, there is an attempt made by the coachee to understand the topic or concept impacting their life or professional world. To attribute causal effects and bring an issue into conscious awareness (i.e. I have a problem with time management). 

3. Reflection — When a coachee not only has an accurate understanding of an issue or strength playing out in their professional world, but they also reflect on that understanding and are able to relate it to personal experiences, or they can make practical applications. (i.e. I have a problem with time management because I’ve grown up in a very fluid household, and I value spontaneity, even if it means I have to work harder to keep on top of projects that slip away from my control).

4. Critical reflection — This highest level of reflection implies the transformation of a perspective. “Many of our actions are governed by a set of beliefs and values that have been almost unconsciously assimilated from our experiences and environment. To undergo a change in perspective requires us to recognize and change these presumptions.” (p. 374) 

Considering these layers, we can see the journey a coachee must go through, from wherever their initial starting point of awareness is on a development objective, and considering their propensity for self-awareness, to shed light on why an action is important, it’s impact on others, and how potentially shifting understanding or behaviour could result in better outcomes for the individual. So how do we develop self-awareness in coaching?

  • Feedback - Often this takes the form of a 360 assessment where the coachee’s peers are asked to give input on the coachees style against a set professional criteria. This can be a blunt instrument, and while informative and a big opportunity for the coachee, the report and feedback requires debriefing with a qualified organisational psychologist to ensure it’s assimilated into the coachees understanding of themselves. The last thing we want is the coachee retracting on self-awareness because they disagree with what’s been shared. 
  • Journaling - this is a great practice to build self-awareness, but needs to be done regularly and with some structure. The coachee should be guided to not just record ‘what’ has happened in a given situation, but ‘why’ it happened - the different motivations of the characters involved, their needs and styles, as well as the coachees own. We’re training the coachee to look for themes, insights, and understand underlying dynamics. This should be a regular daily or at least weekly practice to get good at. 
  • Mindfulness - through daily practice of mindfulness the coachee can come to make connections, slow down their thinking and see patterns in relationships and ways of working that enable them to understand their work environment and relationships better. 

If self-awareness is something you’re thinking of working on as a practised strength, get in touch with us! Our global BOLDLY coaches can work with you to build this essential muscle for career satisfaction:

Reference: Kember, D., McKay, J., Sinclair, K., and Wong, F. K. Y. (2008). A four-category scheme for coding and assessing the level of reflection in written work. Assessment & Evaluation in Higher Education, 33 (4), 363-379.