Self-reflection, while not a soft skill, plays an important role in how we develop our soft skills over time.
Bob Graham (‘0:20’): Hello, I am Bob Graham and with me as always is Dr. Tobin Porterfield. We teach college, we research soft skills and we help our students develop these skills and have seen how they play out in a variety of work settings. We’ll show you that eye for soft skills in a second when we start talking about self reflection.
Graham (‘0:39’): Self reflection itself is not a soft skill, but rather a tool to help us develop our soft skills. Toby, can you explain that to us in general?
Dr. Tobin Porterfield (‘0:52): I can and our timing is great. The Harvard Business Review just this week has an article on the power of self reflection. I am getting the feeling that they folks there are listening to our podcasts and are buying into what we are doing.
Graham (‘1:12’): I love that. It’s a great leap.
Another Voice on Self Reflection
Porterfield (‘1:15’): No, seriously, I do feel like it’s just an affirmation of how powerful self reflection is and typical of the Harvard Business Review, they are looking to CEOs and how they dedicated large periods of time to quiet thought on their own to evaluate what’s going on in their lives, what’s going on, where the opportunities are. We look at self reflection a little differently. We are looking at it and saying the people we work with aren’t able to carve out two hours of their day. I know there’s value in self reflecting and spending that quiet time, but if I am going to spend two hours a day on that, I am going to have to get up around 3 AM. The realities for many of us in our workdays don’t support that. We stay so busy. That’s the pitfall of not self reflecting. It’s a great opportunity to grow, and that’s where we have endorsed it from a soft skills standpoint. You need to self reflect and in that time self evaluate on where you are with a couple of these soft skills and where are you growing. What were you going to try to improve from last week? You need to really be rating yourself and moving toward improvement. While it’s funny to look at the HBR side, but the reality that self reflection is a powerful tool.
What Is Self Reflection?
Graham (‘2:43’): Are we talking about self reflection in terms of journaling or is it just taking some moments to be mindful of what we’ve done and what we are trying to achieve? Or is it interacting with someone else and being accountable? Or is it all three of those or something else?
Porterfield (‘3:00’): We have to be open to how that self reflection takes shape in each of us individually. The No. 1 core element is dedicated time. There are great examples in the Harvard Business Review article, where some people say I do an hour of self reflection every day. Some people say I do six hours, but I spread it across the week, with one or two hours here and there. I have to get out of the office so I won’t get interrupted. I get up from my desk and on Monday, Wednesday and Friday, I take 45 minutes and go down to the coffee shop, put my earbuds in so I don’t get interrupted and work on my self reflection. I go through my list.
Porterfield (‘3:37’): For many of us, self reflection has to have a writing component, where here were the things I was working on, here’s what I was going to do, did I do them? What am I going to do to make sure they happen next time? As you know, I am a person who journals. I find that productive because it introduces a personal accountability so I can look at last week and see that I was going to do that. For me, journaling is an important part of self reflection. That’s really a personal preference.
Graham (‘4:04’): You and I both teach college and each day when I finish a class, I reflect on the class as I walk back to my office. I think of what I did well and what I didn’t do as well as I hoped. I make mental notes of what I would do differently next time I teach the class or this topic. I would do these things. Is that reflection? Does that qualify? Or is that reflection lite?
Porterfield (‘4:30’): That’s a good example, but it’s not going to get us to our soft skills improvement. Unless that was something you were going to work on in your course. Those things you do are what the HBR reminds us are really valuable in self growth and in continuous improvement. But if we are really going to work on soft skills, it’s going to take a different type of dedication. The article goes the same direction. It says that having a coach, having that external person involved might be necessary. We have talked about this before on the podcast. That mentoring can help greatly. It might be a peer or a co-worker; it might be a formal or informal relationship. But having that external influence to hold us accountable for our growth and also to be able to ask us those tough questions. When I view my journal, I put down what I was going to work on. But I am not quite as tough on myself as I should be. Someone from the outside might ask us why we didn’t do something we said we were going to do. Not okay you are going to do it this week. But why didn’t you? What got in the way and what are you doing to keep it from getting in the way this week? That external component can really fast-track transformation.
How Self Reflection Can Work
Graham (‘5:53’): In a perfect world, I would pick one or two soft skills that I want to try to work on. For instance, delegating tasks would be one. It just popped into my head. It is one of the 55 soft skills. If I were going to do that, I would say to myself: Okay, this week I am going to work on delegating more tasks that aren’t an ideal fit for me at my job. I would set that as the goal for the week and then as the week unfolds, I would reflect each day on the how I handled tasks. These are the 10 tasks I had come through the door. I did 9 of them. But in reflection, I really should have only done 4 of them. I delegated 1, but I should have delegated 6. My question to you is that if that is the type of self reflection we do, what is the outgrowth of that self reflection that improves our success? To me, that approach feels like Dad’s going to spank me, just like when I was a child and I didn’t clean my room.
Porterfield (‘7:02’): You also uncover another part of self reflection. We have to self regulate or self motivate. I have to ask myself how am I going to delegate better? I am going to do it, but maybe I am going to spend a little time finding a couple of articles on improving your delegation skills. I am going to talk to Bill because he seems to always have people doing stuff and reporting back to him. He spends more time interacting with people and doing 30 minute updates more than he does work. What’s that all about? Bill has it figured out. Maybe the informal mentoring possibility could help. I am not interested in Bill as a formal mentor, but he could talk to me about how to delegate better. And can we come up with a plan for how I am going to try it. He can check on me over the next few weeks. I will get more comfortable with delegating. That doesn’t necessarily answer your question, but that’s an element we definitely need to bring into the discussion.
What Do You Mean Fast-Tracking?
Graham (8:03′): That all makes sense to me. But you said this fast-tracks things. I am probably putting you on the spot right now, but why do you think that is? I am sitting here as we talk through self reflection, I am struggling to figure out the fast-track aspect of self reflection. However, I will give you a moment to think about it. While working on our book, I remember a study that talked about a company that focused on self reflection. They had a group of employees who came in for training. One group did their training and the last portion of the day was for self reflection for 10 days. The other group just left. They found afterward that when they got these people’s customer service evaluations — and it was a big group — the group that had done the self reflection scored 23% higher on the customer service evaluations from customers than the non self reflectors. That’s a really big difference. It made me take notice. Self reflection might be something valuable. What they posited in the article was that the self reflection at the end of the day actually gave those people a chance to internalize the training, to make it part of them, by talking to themselves about what it does for me. It wasn’t concept alone. It was now I am trying to figure out what it means for me. Here are the action steps for me. If I am dealing with a nasty customer, I learned in a lecture not to get mad. But with self reflection, here are the three things I am going to do to not get mad. Here are my hot buttons, which I know from self reflection. If I know that up front, I can avoid that. I gave one answer based on the research. Can you add something?
Porterfield (’10:20′): That example of self reflection’s benefits crystalizes why we need to do it. We can’t discount the power of self reflection and the time we invest in it. My fast-tracking comment was that we can justify our actions about why we didn’t do something. That accountability from good self reflection, especially with someone else, who makes sure we get something done, that’s when self reflection really helps us improve our soft skills. It makes me get it done. The process is probably just a little more human nature that we would not hold ourselves as accountable. Someone else sets a higher bar of accountability. If I am working with someone else, then he or she is invested in me. He or she expects me to make progress, and he or she is going to be asking me each week. Chances are I am going to make some progress, or I will quickly discover I am not ready to make progress on. We just need to decide and move on to something else rather than me just going week after week that I wish I could get better at delegation or something else. Some things we need to know from the outside that we just can’t tackle now. I might have learned that delegation is just a bigger animal than I can wrestle down right now, and I am going to set it down and work on something else that I can make progress on. We’ll come back to that one. Having that outside influence will make sure that it doesn’t just drag on unaddressed.
Do You Need a Mentor?
Graham (’11:51′): You could do it without that outside influence, correct, and still be successful, depending on who you are and what you are? I tend to be much more internal in that process. I sort have a running monologue with myself all day.
Porterfield (’12:07′): How’s that working?
Graham (’12:10′): I got you to do a podcast.
Porterfield (’12:13′): People listening on the podcast are saying, “You always do have a running dialogue. We feel for you.
Graham (’12:20′): No, monologue. You are seeing a little insight into Toby and me. I hope you are enjoying that. Toby’s picking on me. I will get even later. Whatever form it takes, whether it’s me doing it internally or you doing it more with an outside person working with you, it’s really about — to use your word that you have used a couple of times in the last few weeks — intentionality. This is the soft skill I am trying to work on. This is how I am going to work on it. This worked or didn’t work, and when it doesn’t work, we try something else. Is that a good summary of what we are really trying to get at?
Porterfield (’13:06′): It’s using that other soft skill of perseverance. This is important and I am going to stay at it. I am going to find a way to move forward.
Setbacks with Self Reflection
Graham (’13:19′): And setbacks will come.
Porterfield (’13:22′): They will.
Graham (’13:24′): That’s the other part of self reflection. If you get too bogged down in how you messed something up, you can’t ever achieve what you are trying to achieve. It’s only human nature that you are going to have some less than successful experiences as you learn a new skill. Really, all of these soft skills are new skills in how we apply them in new situations.
Graham (’13:46′): With that, Toby, we should probably close. Do you have anything to add? I had a monologue, to use the words we have been using.
Porterfield (’14:00′): No, I am going to break off here and go self reflect for a little bit and look at my day. That’s the other thing. For some people it’s the beginning of the day. With others, it’s the end of the day, like that study showed. It makes a lot of sense to do it at the end of the day. But for me, I know that I normally have nothing left. For me, I need to start the day with it and look at how I am going to try things out. The next day, I literally write down how I did on the previous day on what I thought I was going to make progress on.
Journaling and Its Benefits
Graham (’14:28′): Do you ever go back and look at those journal entries?
Porterfield (’14:34′): I do, but then my tears make the ink run.
Graham (’14:36′): But would you look back to like six months ago?
Porterfield (’14:38′): Yes, yes.
Graham (’14:40′): How often do you look back? I am curious.
Porterfield (14:43′): Not very often, but I will get to a point and think, hey, do I remember that I addressed this before? What happened with that? It allows me to look back and see that here it was back here and this is how it resolved. I actually do go back to them.
Graham (’15:00′): Wow, I did not know that. That’s kind of cool. It’s neat to have that record to check where you are and see your progress. One of the things about these soft skills is that because they are hard to put your fingers on, it’s really hard to see progress. I am actually starting to think that your written approach might be more useful. Who knows? I might get that monologue onto the page, which would make a really great memoir one day.
Graham (’15:30′): With that, Toby, we should wrap this up. If you are eager to talk to us, and I can’t imagine why. If you want to talk to us, share your opinions about our podcast or other episodes, share ideas for future podcasts, complain about our witty banter, whatever it is, you can always do that by sending an email to firstname.lastname@example.org or you can tweet us at @RealSoftSkills. We’re getting technologically saavy. We also post on the serioussoftskills.com website. We post blogs, links to old episodes and other information, including our show notes. You could access the Harvard Business Journal article so you can look at that yourself.
Graham (’16:30′): Next week, we will be looking at another soft skill, one that I find really difficult. Patience. Look for that and more next week on the Serious Soft Skills Podcast.