How Important Is the Ability to Reflect?

The power of reflection seems remote today. When I walk the streets of New York City, I see a multitude of people with their face buried in their phone or talking on their phone. I have crossed the street to escape many of these cell phone conversations. I needed to make those escapes because I value reflection. 

An article last week in Forbes, courtesy of the Forbes Communications Council, noted how companies can encourage employees to reflect. Suggestions included: 

  • Creating safe spaces for reflection
  • Allowing and responding to anonymous feedback
  • Giving employees flexibility and freedom

I find the absence of spoken-word human voices to be a great spur toward reflection. I listen to loud music all day on noise-canceling headphones precisely for that purpose. I want to hear as little of the human voices surrounding me as possible. Human voices at work are welcome if they are the voices of those you work with, or friendly voices to exchange conversation with. Voices are less welcome when they belong to people who work at the same company, but who have nothing to do with your work. No benefit is gained by having to listen to another employee’s phone conversation with a client, or being forced to listen to two employees discussing a matter unrelated to your work. 

“Safe spaces” for reflection to me mean noise-proof pods with a desk and chair and easy chair or small sofa. An employee could escape into one of these pods to reflect on a work challenge, a development in his or her personal life that has given him or her an idea for a new product or service, or simply to de-stress in a peaceful environment by imagining faraway places. Reflection unrelated directly to work can be beneficial by triggering the imagination and the ability to innovate. 

The ability for anonymous feedback is valuable from the perspective of the employer learning of needed areas of improvement. It also encourages employees to reflect by giving them an outlet to safely share thoughts. I can imagine anonymous feedback from another perspective, though. What if employees could anonymously keep journals online through the company’s intranet? Employees could adopt screen names that protect their identity. They then could share frustrations and moments of happiness on the job, with other employees chiming in to offer encouragement or pointers to help them get through challenges.

Another idea is for a graphic art journal online through the company’s intranet in which employees could anonymously create designs that could be shared with other employees. It would be a way to bring art into the workplace, generating a greater creative spirit. This type of reflective, creative outlet might strengthen an employee’s ability for innovative thinking, and could be helpful for stress management. The ability to create designs that could be shared easily with others could be cathartic for employees who feel taxed and unable to pause to slowly think through the situations challenging them. 

Giving employees flexibility and freedom means letting employees opt NOT to work in an open-plan environment if they find they are not able to be reflective individuals in one. Giving the option for simple barriers to preserve the privacy of peripheral vision, and offer a small noise barrier, can help employees feel empowered. It gives employees a sense that they have choice in at least a small aspect of their work environment. When you feel empowered, it can create a greater sense of ease. It’s that ease that gives an employee the chance to exhale and think about recent developments.

The pressure to constantly collaborate and interact can spur new ideas in the exchange with others, but it also can create shallow-thinking people. It’s in the solitude and quiet that exciting new discoveries often emerge. If employees get a lot done, but have no time to consider what any of it means, then you end up with a workforce of robots. They have been programmed to complete tasks, and offer regular input and output, but are not able to assimilate the knowledge and experience gained. The work completed by these robot-like employees is never built upon because there is no thought process in place to consider the great thing that could come next. 

Do you consider it important to have employees who are capable of reflection? Or is it preferable to have employees who can talk to one another non-stop, but are unable to have a conversation with themselves?


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