The reality of the stressful nature of life in lockdown as a result of COVID-19 is that the quality of our communications and negotiations is under pressure. We need to harness our dispute resolution agency, and employ positive strategies and methods from the art of mediation, in order to ensure we do our best to prevent, manage and resolve disputes. We also need to practice self-management, for example by building our resilience skills, so that we protect our psychological well-being and ensure we have the right attitudes and energies for lockdown living.
In this last post for the Lockdown Dispute Resolution #101 series we consider a second aspect of self-management – reflective practice. Mediators regularly engage in reflective practice. For example, after Associate Professor Libby Taylor and I have conducted a co-mediation in the Bond Family Dispute Resolution Clinic, we always debrief together and reflect on what went well and what we could have done differently or better. We ensure our feedback to each other is honest but constructive and it’s always a very rich learning experience.
The self-management skill of reflective practice can help us to manage and cope with stress as we endure the impact of COVID-19. It can also enhance our capacity to communicate and negotiate effectively.
Reflective practice is a positive cognitive process that we can all use to enhance our capacity for self-management and our interactions with others in lockdown. Reflective practice helps us to strategically and thoughtfully identify gaps between our existing knowledge, skills and values, and those we want to gain or develop. Reflective practice can also help to maintain our psychological well-being because it supports emotional intelligence which in turn supports balance, happiness and self-regulated behaviour. Once you know how to do reflective practice it is hard to unlearn – it’s a valuable skill that has application in both our personal and professional lives.
There is a substantial body of scholarly literature and research on reflective practice. Chris Argyris and Donald Schön published the first scholarly work in the area of reflective practice in 1978. Schön was one of the leading thinkers in reflective practice until his untimely death in 1997 at the age of 66.
After considering a range of theorists’ work on reflective practice, Russell Rogers devised the following definition. Reflective practice is:
a cognitive and affective process that (1) requires active engagement on the part of the individual; (2) is triggered by an unusual or perplexing situation or experience; (3) involves examining one’s responses, beliefs, and premises in light of the situation at hand; and (4) results in integration of the new understanding of one’s experience.
The attributes of a reflective practitioner are all the sorts of attributes we need to be effective communicators and negotiators in lockdown. For example, reflective practitioners learn from experience; identify personal and professional strengths; identify areas for improvement; identify their needs; develop goals; implement strategies to achieve goals; acquire new knowledge and skills more effectively and efficiently; better understand their own beliefs, attitudes and values; are self-motivated, self-directed, and more confident; cope well with uncertainty and anxiety; exercise sound judgment; are able to accept and constructively process critical feedback; and are committed to life-long learning (Davies, 2012).
Putting theory into practice
The theory of reflective practice certainly sounds positive. There are many ways to put this theory into practice. One reflective practice model that is easy to enact has been developed by Graham Gibbs. This model involves 6 steps:
- First, identify an experience or situation that requires reflection. For example, my difficult Zoom communication with a work colleague today.
- Second, describe that experience or situation by asking ‘What happened?’ This is not an analysis of the situation – merely a description. For example, my colleague was agitated that a decision had been made without consulting her and expressed this in an aggressive way towards me. I responded defensively.
- Third, explore your reactions and feelings in relation to that situation or experience by asking ‘How did I feel about the situation?’ For example, I felt really angry that she accused me of poor collegiality without asking for more information about the situation. I felt upset that she had spoken to me so aggressively. I felt I had to let her know that and defend myself.
- Fourth, analyse and evaluate the situation or experience by asking questions like: ‘What could I have done differently?’ ‘Was the experience similar or different to previous experiences?’ For example, I could have remained calmer and used empathy to understand where my colleague was coming from. I could have asked more clarifying questions rather than responding defensively. I could have used LARSQ more effectively to lift the quality of the interaction. I could have acknowledged the colleague’s upset and suggested we pursue the conversation at another time.
- Fifth, make some conclusions about the situation or experience, starting with general conclusions and moving to conclusions that are more specific to you and your own personal situation or way of working. For example, I want to avoid this sort of communication exchange with any colleagues in the future. With this particular colleague I want to reach out to apologise for my defensive response, revisit what happened and ensure a better communication process that will settle the issues.
- Sixth, use all the steps above to create a personal action plan for yourself, using questions like: ‘How will you manage a similar experience next time?’ What will you do differently, what will you do the same?’ ‘What have you learned from the situation?’ ‘What steps can you take to make the most of this learning experience?’ For example, I’ll talk with my mentor about what happened and seek some further feedback from them. I’ll work to fix the relationship with this colleague. I’ll aim to set ground-rules for communications when a colleague appears to be approaching the situation aggressively.
Reflective practice is a skill that is best learned by doing. To become a competent reflective practitioner, we need an established structure and framework, such as Gibbs’ model above, to guide our reflections. We also need to commit to that framework and allocate dedicated time in our busy schedules to ensure that we actually put reflection into practice.
Being a reflective practitioner has lots of positive flow-on impacts for coping with the challenging circumstances of COVID-19 and life in lockdown. Reflective practice can help us to be more effective as communicators and negotiators, and ensure that we do our best to prevent, manage and resolve disputes.
Thank you: This series of posts was only possible through the collegial generosity of ADR Research Network members. Thank you to Professors Laurence Boulle and Nadja Alexander for very kindly allowing me to use and adapt Chapter 6 of their Mediation Skills and Techniques (Lexis Nexis, 3rd ed, 2020) for many of the posts. This book is a must-have for any dispute resolution practitioner, and anyone interested in extending their dispute prevention, management and resolution skills. Thank you also to my co-authors James Duffy and Dr Anna Huggins for writing Lawyering and Positive Professional Identities (LexisNexis, 2nd ed, 2020) with me. Elements of this work were used for the development of a number of posts. Thank you also to Professor Jonathan Crowe for allowing me to use aspects of our forthcoming work Mediation Ethics: From Theory to Practice (Edward Elgar, 2020).
Finally, a big thank you to the ADR Research Network members who are a wonderful, collegial and scholarly community of practice – you are all an inspiration. Thank you especially to Dr John Woodward our President for 2020 (who generously let me encroach into his Blog Editor month of May); and to Nussen Ainsworth – convenor of the ADR Research Network Blog for 2020.
The content of this post was adapted and reproduced from Rachael Field, James Duffy and Anna Huggins, Lawyering and Positive Professional Identities (LexisNexis, 2nd ed, 2020) Chapter 4.
Lockdown image: Inside Sources
Donald Schön: infed
Gibbs Reflective Practice Model: Cambridge International Education
Theory into practice: Pinterest
Chris Argyris and Donald Schön, Organization Learning: A Theory of Action Perspective (Addison Wesley, 1978).
Samantha Davies, ‘Embracing Reflective Practice’ (2012) 23 Education for Primary Care 9.
Graham Gibbs, Learning by Doing: A Guide to Teaching and Learning Methods (Oxford Centre for Staff and Learning Development, 1988).
Russell Rogers, ‘Reflection in Higher Education: A Concept Analysis’ (2001) 26(1) Innovative Higher Education 37.
Donald A Schön, The Reflective Practitioner: How Professionals Think in Action (Basic Books, 1983).
Donald A Schön, Educating the Reflective Practitioner (Jossey-Bass, 1987).