How do I self-reflect?
Identifying learning opportunities as a professional
Just as when you were a student, any experience or activity where you have had the opportunity to make decisions and act on these lends itself to self-reflection for employability purposes. However, as a professional it is likely that the situations that you choose to reflect on will be much more work-oriented.
While it is possible to reflect on your work or role overall, it can be more effective to identify a particular learning opportunity – an activity, event, incident, task or situation as part of your work to reflect on.
Remember a learning opportunity can be any instance where you felt like you were pushed out of your comfort zone, or you weren’t sure how to handle a situation. If you were motivated to take action of some kind, then the chances are that it is a learning opportunity.
Think about situations that had an impact on you.
Was the situation new or challenging?
Were you motivated to take action?
This is a learning opportunity!
Examples of learning opportunities as a professional
Working environments are full of potential learning opportunities. Take these for example:
- A difference of opinion with a co-worker
- Juggling multiple work projecs
- Working with new technology or equipment
- Managing staff
- Presenting a report to a Senior Manager
- Pitching to potential investors
- A restructure of your organisation
- Motivating team members
- Proposing a new initiative
If any of these experiences have pushed you outside your comfort zone then it may be a potential learning opportunity and could be reflected on to determine whether any employability development occurred.
It is often not possible to reflect immediately on uncomfortable situations in a work environment, but make a mental note to come back to evaluate how you behaved in this particular circumstance.
Write down 4 potential work based learning opportunities that you have had in the last 12 months.
Self-reflection for professionals
There are many well-known models of self-reflection, which can guide your reflection and enable deeper consideration of a particular experience or situation, or to direct your reflection in a way that will lead to a better understanding of your behaviour in a particular context.
The University of Edinburgh reflection website provides a useful list of reflective tools and models.
Over years of supporting students and graduates to self-reflect for employability development at The University of Queensland, we developed the SEAL process of self-reflection which was intentionally designed to uncover learning relating to employability.
The SEAL process of self-reflection
The SEAL process of self-reflection, as shown below, helps you to unpack a particular learning opportunity in order to understand the employability development that has occurred.
As with all self-reflection, there is no right or wrong answer – it is what you personally got out of an experience. Through this self-reflection, you will better understand how your experiences can develop the attitudes and behaviours that enable you to perform effectively in work environments.
What happened during the event, incident, activity, or task?
What were the new experiences you had to deal with or the challenges faced, and what impact did they have on you?
What did you learn from it -- what can you now do as a result and what do you need to do to handle a similar situation again in the future? How has the experience added to the ones you have already had in terms of your development?
In most instances, when you are reflecting on something that occurred in a professional context, you will not write out your self-reflection, as you are familiar with the learning opportunity you encountered and there is little need to describe it in detail. However it is still important to think about the effect that the situation had on you (the E of SEAL) as this has a direct impact on how you subsequently behaved. How you felt in that situation is essentially why you took a particular course of action (the A of SEAL). In a professional situation, this means a potential impact on your performance or the way you interact with colleagues or clients.
Self-reflecting on professional situations will help you identify areas for improvement, or simply assist you to consider how you might do things differently in the future. This has an impact on your effectiveness in the organisation or business, as well as on your career.
As you progress through your career, you can and should continue to self-reflect on your experiences and use this learning to improve workplace performance and to guide your career journey.
Here’s an example of self-reflection on a work-based experience using the SEAL process:
Situation: You’re in a meeting and one of your colleagues cuts you off every time you offer an opinion.
Effect: You feel disrespected and you withdraw from the meeting and don’t say anything further even though you believe you have some valuable thoughts to share.
Action: In order to deal with this situation, the next time it happens you respectfully ask the person if you can finish what you were saying. Although it made for an awkward moment in the meeting at the time, they did apologise and let you finish.
Learning: What you have learned from this is that through being respectfully assertive – even if it took you out of your comfort zone – you were able to address the inappropriate behaviour that was negatively affecting you. You gained the confidence to use this technique again in future situations.
Identifying capability development through your reflection
The next step is to consider the learning from your experiences in terms of specific competencies, capabilities or attributes that you may have developed as a result of your experiences and your self-reflection on them.
The L is the most important part of the SEAL self-reflective process, as it is where we can see what development has been gained from the situation.
To help with this process of identifying capabilities and attributes from your reflection it can be helpful to consider the expectations in your work environment, or in your preferred career or role.
Are there particular capabilities, skills or mindsets that are valuable in your work (or in the work you hope to do)? Do you feel that any of these skills have been used in the situation you reflected on?
- Use the U21 SEAL for professionals worksheet to self-reflect on a learning opportunity that you have encountered in your work environment recently (you might like to use one of those that you listed in the earlier exercise).
- Now analysis the ‘L’ from your learning.
- Can you identify certain skills or attributes that you drew on to handle the situation?
- How can you use these skills and attributes in future work situations?
- How does this new development fit in with other capabilities you have?
- Can you put this learning into action immediately?