our thoughts

Reflective Thinking : Levels of Reflection
18 February 2014

One of the keys to increased personal effectiveness is how well an individual can flexibly apply different styles and approaches to different situations. Reflective thinking is a tool we can use to notice what we are doing in different circumstances.

The best leaders are able to choose how they respond to individuals, situations, challenges and contexts by drawing on the most appropriate style and behaviour to achieve the best outcome. We might say that great leaders are choiceful in how they engage with the world.

In order to become more choiceful, individuals need to pay more attention to what they are currently doing. This may seem paradoxical, but the more we can notice what choices we are already making and our reasons for making these choices, the more we are able to choose different ways of being and acting. This process of paying more attention to what we are currently doing is about raising our awareness of the things that we choose to do (and not do).


“Reflective thinking involves personal consideration of one’s own learning. It considers personal achievements and failures and asks what worked, what didn’t and what needs improvement. It asks the learner to think about his or her own thinking.”

 — Barbara Given, 2002


Reflection is a way of externalising what we do and holding it up to ourselves for critical scrutiny. It is about ‘looking at oneself in the mirror’ and noticing what we do and how appropriate this is for the current situation. This process of becoming more aware through reflection and then making more informed choices about the appropriateness of actions and interventions is a fundamental part of professional development.

Awareness and choice are integral parts of the journey of personal change – if you don’t reflect it is very unlikely you will be able to change.


Levels of Reflection

There are four levels of reflection an individual can engage in:

  • Auto-pilot: Individual is unaware of their own drivers and natural reactions. They respond automatically to all situations.
  • Reflect on Events: Individual reflects on actions, choices and types of interactions they engaged in AFTER a significant event. Starting to make sense of the connections between the choices made and the quality of interactions / outcomes achieved.
  • Reflect on Patterns: Individual is starting to spot patterns and make connections about how their choices play out in different situations, circumstances and what the impact of these choices is. Individual likely to be designing ‘action experiments’ to try out different styles and approaches in different situations.
  • Reflect in Action: Individual has the ability to reflect ‘in the moment’ on the choices they are making and the impact this is having. Individual will be consciously ‘shuttling’ their attention between what they are doing and how appropriate this is. For example, an individual may notice that they are coming across as being too challenging to a colleague and modify their approach to offer more support.

We see reflection as the start of a process of raising awareness and being more choiceful:

REFLECTING on how you work, what you do and who you are helps to develop more AWARENESS of preferences and styles, so you have more CHOICE about how you react and respond.

In the next post, we will consider some of the different ways people have found that help them reflect.


  1. Hayley says:

    I have only been ‘reflecting in actin’ for a matter of months but I’m learning more about myself every day. Its quite liberating to decide which part of me I want to show up. I am still experimenting with this and noticing what reaction I get in different situations. This is something I know I will continue to use every day.


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