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Reflection Time is Crucial

Experience is a hot commodity! 


When we create a job ad, we often state things like “five years’ experience required” or, “10 years’ experience is a must.” Why? Because it’s a no-brainer that if people have “been there, done that,” they most likely will come to work and be here and do that for us. They will be more productive and make fewer mistakes if they have experience. This final step in the Thinking Advantage is a multiplier of experience. Imagine this: you’ve just Coached your team member through something they were stuck on, you Co-created a solution and you didn’t Rescue them. They, very literally, just had an experience. And we’ve already established that experience is valuable. Engaging in a moment of Reflection can help that experience sink in, stick, and offer deeper context the next time a similar situation arises. And that’s only because we are human! Let’s head back to what we know about the brain to see why. 


This person’s experience, up until now, was just raw material in their brain. They tried things that didn’t work, they found things that did work, they found a new partner, had a hard conversation, struggled with painful moments, had some powerful a-ha moments, etc. All of this is great. They also had other experiences that were less meaningful, like having breakfast, answering the phone, being stuck at a stoplight, and mindlessly scrolling through social media. The point is, a lot of information entered their brain that day. If we don’t take time to seal in those meaningful experiences, the brain will “wash” them away and treat them as irrelevant. Here’s how that works. As you sleep, your brain cells shrink microscopically, then your cerebral spinal fluid moves in and out of your brain cells, literally washing it, cleaning it up for the next day. If you don’t “tag” the important experiences as valuable memories, they are at risk for being taken out with the trash. Why would we let that happen? We just made an investment of time and attention into coaching this person, don’t waste the investment! Make it work for you again and again with this simple step. 


By simply offering them time to reflect on their experience, the learning from that experience is more likely to stick. 


How to use Return and Reflect in two easy steps:

  1. Return: Make the invitation! Invite them back with a simple phrase like, “When you're done, come on back and let me know how it went.” Just the invitation alone sets their mind on a path of “I’m going to report all of this,” and that gives the action more intention (and attention). Their brain automatically starts taking note of things to report, even if it's not totally conscious. As a bonus, they feel you caring and placing importance on the situation and it becomes a trust-building experience. Whenever I teach this tool, bosses often report that they do ask people to come back, but they rarely do. If you find yourself experiencing the same thing, here are a few things to remember:

  • Don’t worry about it. As a coach, I make it a point to end every coaching conversation with an invitation. Sometimes they accept my invitation, and sometimes they don’t. When they do, they feel the power of reflection and walk away with more learning. The experience is elevated and they can apply what they’ve learned to more than just one scenario. I love the return and reflect conversations because this is where the transformation really occurs, as they are able to see their experience with a new perspective, now that the experience is over. Some leaders really take me up on my coaching and others don’t, but I’ve come to a happy place by knowing that they’ll reflect in their own due time. 

  • You may be making this step too linear. Yes, in the algorithm I just shared, in a utopian world, someone would return and reflect with you on a specific issue you coached them on, and then the issue would be tied with a neat and tidy bow. The return and reflect step can be used at any time, even if there was no specific coaching before it. For example, I make proactive calls to my clients about a week before their session so we are on the same page with the hot issues and how the quarter went. Invariably during this call, I ask, “How’s the team? Are they ready for next week?” These questions cause the leader to pause and think: how is my team? Are they ready for next week? They then discuss the quarter, reflecting on the stories and events they experienced. This call certainly gives me the information I need, but the real benefit is that by creating the space for this leader to reflect on the quarter, they become more clear about what their issues are and what to focus on for next quarter. I didn’t need to do any coaching before the reflection was useful. 

  • Make it a habit. Make reflections part of your normal meetings. If you have regularly scheduled one-on-one meetings, ask, “What would be helpful to reflect on during our time together?” If you run on EOS, you’ll hold Quarterly Conversations™, where you’ll create a space for them to reflect on what's working and what's not. 

  • Set a date. When I have a critical coaching session that must have a follow-up, I ask the leader to commit to a day and time for returning and reflecting. We put it on the calendar to make space for it before we leave the conversation. 

  1. Reflect: When they do return, ask them to reflect vs. report. A report is just a statement of facts or a replay of what happened. Get them focused on reflecting on what happened. Help them think deeper about observations, behaviors, a-ha moments, etc., that will serve them in multiple situations, not just this one. When they do the talking, the lessons stick. This can be as simple as asking, “How did it go?” If they are ready to go deeper, you can ask, “what did you learn?” “On reflection, when did you know this project was off track?” “What will you do differently next time?” Bosses want to know the outcome of the issue; coaches want to help them learn lessons for the future. Do both! Spend most of the time in reflection rather than reporting and they’ll start to think faster.

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