In the context of client work the reflective practitioner has to ask him/herself continuously: “Who is the person behind the professional label and what does he/she bring to the table”? Such self-reflections are necessary to assure that practitioners do not get caught up in their own past experiences when approaching those they are working with.
To do so practitioners have to thoroughly question what their contribution to a certain incident is. This ability to step back and into the ‘observer’ position is also known as becoming the observing ego. It allows practitioners to closely examine the interactions between themselves and the client. How are your affective, behavioural, and cognitive experiences contributing to a problem situation?
This powerful method of reflecting on one’s own as well as the other person’s responses is a potent means of changing adult relationships. It reduces transference and projection, the two culprits that are usually at the core of relationship discord and conflicts. Schon (1987) refers to this by speaking about ‘knowing in action’, whereby he sees practitioners in the centre of the incident under reflection while being open to their own doubts" (p. 83).
Self-Awareness: Such a deep level of self-reflection will contribute to a deep self-awareness, the cornerstone of emotional intelligence (EQ). It is commonly understood as knowing one’s history and knowing the emotional and formative impact history had on one’s development as a person. Questions that foster self-awareness are;
- How have my family environment and other formative experiences with persons in authority shaped me as a person?
- How have parental qualities impacted on me?
- Has there been trauma or abuse of some sort?
- What coping skills have I employed in difficult situations and do I still use them?
Only by knowing what has shaped one’s personality and one’s values and beliefs can reflective practitioners relate to another person successfully. It allows reflective practitioners to be attuned to their reactions and accurately interpreting their gut feelings without contaminating the client-practitioner relationship with their personal material.
Self-Management: The literature of reflective practice rarely ventures beyond the need for self-understanding. However, I propose that in order to engage successfully with another person in a highly effective, professional way, practitioners also need self management skills. These skills include strategies for dealing with difficult situations such as disappointments, conflicts, stress, anger, and mis-understanding. They are the second building block to emotional intelligence and include skills such as distress tolerance and emotion regulations skills. Self-management skills include
- Effective self care strategies
- Distress tolerance skills
- Knowing one’s limits
- Having self-control
- Feeling good about yourself
- Being able to tolerate otherness
- Seeing mistakes as learning possibilities
Being able to rely on these strategies helps to remain connected to others and assures that relationships are based on recognition. Knowing one’s core values and biases, and monitoring one’s own reactions to other are the hallmark of mindful reflective practitioners.
Understanding others: Effective reflective practice also requires understanding others. Understanding others is a delicate process influenced by the fact that results of observing someone are always shaped by the observer. The more aware reflective practitioners are of their own issues, biases, and values, the more will they be able to understand and engage empathically with others.
Understanding others also requires from practitioners a basic understanding of the make-up of people. Being able to identify whether a person is visual, kinaesthetic, or auditory goes a long way towards understanding them, building rapport, and knowing how to approach them to get the best result. However, perceptional systems are not the only markers towards understanding others. Understanding others is a complex undertaking. It entails
- Self-awareness and self-management
- Ability to connect,
- Capacity for empathy, and the
- Ability to establish an effective relationship in which the enormous complexity of another individual can be explored and hopefully understood.
Managing relationships: The last important factor for reflective practitioners and the last part of emotional intelligence is the ability to manage relationships effectively. Indeed, all four aspects of emotional intelligence are interwoven and are at times both cause and/or effect. In managing relationships with services users effectively, reflective practitioners need to understand the dynamics between themselves, service users, and any third party to avoid dysfunctional dynamics being re-enacted. Practitioners need to be aware of splitting that often occurs between service user and services and can lead to re-enactments of victim > rescuer > persecutor dynamics. Ultimately, achieving a high level of managing relationships requires a good understanding of communication skills. These skills include
- Listening skills
- Rapport building skills
- Conflict management skills
- Skills in giving feedback
- Creating agreement skills
In closing, I would like to acknowledge the many aspects and multiple levels reflection necessary for best practice standards to be achieved. Practitioners have to consider the
Professional level > service provider to service user
Interpersonal level > person to person
Intra-personal level > how the service user affects the practitioner
Intra-personal level > how the practitioner affects the service user
This reflection can take either place in their note writing, in supervision, reflective Journaling, reflective discussion, retrospection, action research, or in regular peer-support meetings. It can also take place between practitioner and client, between colleagues, and between teams and management. Professional reflectivity enables professionals and teams to align their cognitive, behavioural, and affective responses to the demands of their complex practice.
To reflect on the Self and connect with all aspects of one’s personality and personal history is a precondition for connecting effectively with others. Reflective practitioners need to know what they bring to the table and be alert to their triggers. It is not only central to reflective practice, but also central to the ability to establish and maintain successful relationships. It becomes more and more accepted that establishing effective relationships with service users is crucial for healing, learning, happiness, and wellbeing.