According to Senge (1994), reflection is the act of examining our own thinking. More specifically, it’s the process of “slowing down our thinking processes to become more aware of how we form our mental models” (p. 236). Often these mental models are tacit and invisible unless we take steps to surface them, explore them in a non-defensive way, and potentially, to be willing to re-shape them in order to serve us more effectively.
Reflective thinking can be a great tool for debriefing situations and interactions that you or others feel have resulted in less-than desirable results. The following questions can help you cognitively revisit the situation and examine your own thinking:
- What has really led me to think and feel this way?
- What was my intention? What was I trying to accomplish?
- How might my thoughts, comments, or actions contributed to any difficulties with the situation?
- What remained unsaid or undeclared?
- What assumptions was I making about the other person or people?
- What prevented me from acting differently?
- How can I use reflective thinking as a resource to improve my communications?
Also, reflective thinking can be a great tool in use in your team – especially when team members feel they have reached an impasse or have achieved limited productivity. Sometimes, this frustration is a result of unsurfaced mental models that (1) are competing with each other; (2) are shared but undeclared; or (3) are shared but inadequate. Use these questions to help work through the frustrations that can accompany these apparent disconnects:
- What do we know as facts?
- What do we sense is true but cannot support with data?
- What don’t we know? What are our questions and imponderables?
- What is unknowable?
- What limited experiments can we design to test our current model?