The power of self-reflection

Dan Portes

In our focus of evaluating people in the context of providing services in retained search, outplacement, coaching, team building, human resource consulting and conflict resolution, we use a variety of methods to determine what the person’s core values and beliefs are, along with personality traits that make each one unique.

Some personality traits are more important than others. For example, when we are looking for managers or leaders in an organization, we evaluate traits like: Agreeableness, outgoingness, assertiveness, high degree candor, sense of responsibility, need to achieve, strong work ethic, empathetic, sympathetic, trust in others and consideration for others. This is an abbreviated list of traits in our assessments.

While all of these are important, I would like to bring up one that I believe is critical to success, not only at work but also in life. It is a trait that is not necessarily innate. We can learn it, but it requires a conscientious effort to work on every day and in all situations. What I am referring to is self-reflection.

Specifically I am talking about the willingness to look at one’s behavior, values, attitudes, ideas, underlying motivations and approaches to other people in which you take a deep, hard look at yourself before judging others.

I have gotten into plenty of arguments throughout my lifetime. Usually my first thoughts are about winning and/or making my point. I don’t listen to the other person or try to understand how this person came to a different conclusion or opinion than me. I don’t really care about their underlying motivation. I just want them to agree with me.

Listening or understanding the other person’s position and underlying motivations are critical to coming up with better outcomes, yet I would like to suggest not understanding how we come to our conclusions is equally as important and maybe more. Again, what I am referring to is self-reflection. I am including a list you might want to think about the next time you are having conflict with someone else and you want to use an approach that might have better outcomes.

• Ask yourself if you can repeat back what the other person’s position is and how he or she came to his or her conclusions.

• Ask yourself where you got your information from and determine if it is a reputable source and if you are interpreting the data correctly.

• If your source is another person, make sure to separate facts from opinions and verify the credibility.

• Do not allege any intent coming from the other person you are disagreeing with until you check it out.

• Always speak for yourself and not the group.

• If you have strong feelings, opinions and ideas about something, ask yourself where they came from and if you have ever gone through a process of questioning the core premises of why you developed these opinions.

• There is a process of self-discovery that entails asking yourself the five whys before you can be sure your position is valid. The Five Whys template is a simple brainstorming tool that helps to identify the root causes of a problem. Starting with an initial problem, you ask “Why” until you narrow in on one key issue that you can focus your efforts and attention.

• Share your thoughts with others, letting them know how you came to your conclusions and ask them for feedback.

• Be prepared to find out many of your positions might not be well thought out and the results could make you feel out of balance and wondering who you really are and what you believe because most people are not self-reflective.

• Do your best job to understand your underlying feelings and ask yourself why for example you are angry, mad, sad or vindictive.

Some would say being self-reflective is nothing more than considering the rights and feelings of others before your own. Although this is an important quality, it will not make you feel better until you understand yourself and feel comfortable about yourself and your positions, ideas and opinions.

I believe true happiness comes when your value system and your behavior is congruent or matches up. Self-reflection enables you to develop a basis for a sound value system.