Gibbs’ Reflective Cycle can be used to help you learn from your experiences.
Your experiences have shaped who you are. However, to grow as a person experience alone isn’t enough. You need to reflect on your important experiences to form theories, rules, and principles that will make you better at your job.
Gibbs’ Reflective Cycle is a simple six-stage process that can help you reflect on your experiences in the workplace. You’ll learn what went well, as well as what could have gone better, and put together an action plan to address your weaknesses.
The model is in part inspired by Kolb’s Learning Cycle, who in turn was inspired by the work of Kurt Lewin.
The model is a circular six-step critical reflection process. The circular nature of the model lends itself to learning from experiences over time. The model consists of six steps:
The first three steps of the model focus on what happened during the experience being analyzed. The final three steps of the model focus on how you can improve your experience for future similar situations you encounter.
In this stage, you simply describe what happened. To do this, you provide a factual description of what happened – don’t draw any conclusions yet (you’ll do that later). This step aims to set the scene and provide some context, so you get a better understanding of the experience.
Questions that can help include:
In this step, you describe the feelings you felt during the experience. You shouldn’t try to judge or evaluate your feelings, simply state what they were.
Questions that can help include:
In this step, we objectively evaluate the experience. Here we are trying to determine what went well and what didn’t go so well. It is essential to be as honest as possible to get the most out of this process.
Questions that can help here include:
In this step, you describe what you think might have helped or hindered the situation. The aim is to explore the options that might be available to you if you encountered a similar situation again.
This step is an excellent opportunity to conduct some research into academic models or tools might have helped you. For example, if you’ve had a presentation that didn’t go so well because it wasn’t well structured, then a tool such as Monroe’s Motivated Sequence might have helped.
Now you have analyzed the different options available to you, in this step its time to focus and draw some conclusions.
Using the information you’ve collected in your analysis, ask yourself:
In this step, you plan based on your conclusions, how you’ll position yourself so you can better handle a similar situation next time. It is crucial you commit and take action on your plan so that real change occurs.
If you’re coaching someone else through the Reflective Cycle, then agree on a date to speak again to review progress on the plan.
There are several advantages associated with Gibbs’ Reflective Cycle.
Criticisms of Gibbs’ Reflective Cycle include:
In this example, imagine you gave a presentation to your senior leadership team, and it hasn’t gone well. Retrospectively using the model, your analysis might look something like this:
|Step 1: Description||Last Monday I was giving a presentation to the board. The purpose of the presentation was to provide an update on my department’s progress in the previous quarter.
I only got to slide three before the whole thing fell apart!
The finance director asked me a question on the figures, and I got flustered. He already didn’t agree with the direction of my presentation. A big debate ensued, and I didn’t even complete my presentation!
|Step 2: Feelings||In the lead up to the presentation, I felt very nervous as it’s not every day I give a presentation to the leadership team. I felt panicked when asked the numbers question. I felt like an idiot when my time was up, and I hadn’t even made it past the introduction.|
|Step 3: Evaluation||On the positive side, I’ve heard from my boss that this kind of thing happens all the time. Afterward, I just felt sad that I’d messed up and a little mad with the finance director.|
|Step 4: Analysis||On reflection, I should have sent a copy of the presentation to each member of the leadership team in advance of the presentation. I also should have followed up with each of them in person to check that they didn’t take issue with anything I was going to present. This would have also helped to calm my pre-presentation nerves.|
|Step 5: Conclusion||On balance, I realize that these things happen and it’s not the end of the world to have a presentation go wrong like this. The good news is that I can see a way to go forward which has a good chance of a better outcome next time.|
|Step 6: Action Plan||1. Distribute the presentation to key stakeholders in advance.
2. Run through the plan with anyone who might have an issue with it. This will also serve as a practice run at performing the presentation.
You can download a template to help you conduct a Gibbs’Reflective Cycle in PDF format here.
Gibbs’ Reflective Cycle provides a six-step circular process that you can use to help you learn through practice.
The first half of the model helps you collate what happened during your previous experience, while the second half helps you understand the improvement options available and take action, so you improve your performance in any similar situations you encounter in the future.
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