Developing a reflective practice – the route to self-awareness through dialogue

Academics in the social sciences often speak of the need to develop a reflective practice. In this post I discuss my thoughts on what it is to be a reflective practitioner and how dialogue plays its part. I will then link the application of a reflective practice to our main aim, which is personal development.

This discussion paves the way for a further post in which I describe a framework that has helped in my ongoing journey to develop a more reflective practice and, therefore, helped me on my personal development journey.

Schön (1991) challenges academics who “foster selective inattention to practical competence and professional artistry.” He also challenges non-academics who shy away from attempting to describe how they do things by saying it is an “art” or that their decisions are based purely on “intuition.”

Essentially Schön is challenging us all to open up more dialogue with those that work in different fields or practices. He is also challenging practitioners within particular fields to reflect more on how they know what they know, how they do what they do and how accessible or inaccessible their knowledge is to those outside their field. He is asking practitioners to enter into a dialogue with themselves about their practice.

He is promoting greater dialogue within practices in order to foster greater dialogue¹ between practices.

In defining dialogue, Bohm (2004) refers to a process whereby one person expresses something to another and then listens, with an open mind, to the response. Upon realising, through this response, that the meaning they wanted to convey was not what was understood, they remain open to new meanings and possibilties arising. They don’t immediately attempt to correct the other so that they better understand the ‘correct’ meaning. They accept there are multiple possible meanings and potential outcomes. As the conversation weaves back and forth, with each participant expressing their thoughts having heard the other’s words through their own filters, each can see how their view of the world differs to the other’s and sees their own belief systems revealed to them.

Dialogue can take place between individuals and within our own practices. I need to be open to new meanings and possibilities. I need to be mindful of how my strongly held beliefs can blind me to these meanings and possibilities. This is true when listening to others and when ‘listening’ to myself.

I hold the view that my ‘practice’ is not restricted to my professional roles. I play an almost endless list of roles in life: I am colleague, consultant, writer, speaker, partner, father, brother, son, friend, ‘Northerner’, rugby union fan, occasional cook, reluctant gardener, pub-goer, etc.

If each role is represented by a circle, at the centre of all these overlapping circles is my ‘self’. This collection of overlapping roles is what I consider to be my practice, and this practice is to a large extent, defined by its relationship with others (e.g. colleague, consultant, father, brother, etc.). It is the acquisition of self-awareness across this wide spectrum of roles, combined with improved quality of dialogue with others, that are my main aims in developing a reflective practice.

Like Schön, I am advocating the development of greater reflection or dialogue within my practice in order to foster greater dialogue between practices. My aim is to improve my ability to have meaningful dialogue with others, with less “selective inattention” and less hiding behind the “art” and “intuition” that are excuses for not challenging my habits and belief systems.

Developing a more reflective practice is a key element of my personal development journey. If you recall, I proposed a definition for personal development as the life-long development of presence, through the creation of a reflective practice, focused on raising levels of self-awareness.

It is worth noting here that a virtuous circle of personal development exists in the relationship between self-awareness and dialogue with others. It is often said that the meaning of our communication is in the reaction that we see and that this is sometimes at odds with the meaning we wanted to convey. So it is with other aspects of our ‘selves’. We are constantly communicating with others (verbally and non-verbally) and we are therefore constantly generating reactions. These reactions are mirrors held up to our behaviours. In these reactions we can get a closer look at our selves, if we are open to recognising them as such. The more we are able to observe others and recognise how they react to us, the more we can reflect on what it is we are doing to generate such reactions.

Developing self-awareness is not all about introspection and naval-gazing! It is also about relationship and awareness of others.

In a future post I will build on these concepts and share the framework I created to help me develop my reflective practices as part of my ongoing personal development journey.


Schön, D. A. (1991) The Reflective Practitioner: How Professionals Think In Action. London, Ashgate.


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