I was moved to write this after reading an article called “The Art of Reflection: Turning the Strange into the Familiar” by Kaethe Weinbarten. Here are my reflections, on her reflections, about reflections!
Those who know me will know that I believe that all interventions are political in that they are attempts to make someone see or do things our way. Indeed, “one way of understanding power is that power is the means to create a consensus” (Lukes 2004). This is why I’ve never been a fan of the practice of giving and receiving ‘feedback’, especially in an organisational setting. In many cases, its a form of manipulation dressed up as best practice.
I would like to replace the practice of ‘feedback’ with ‘reflection’. Organisational coaches will no doubt argue that there is a thin line between the two but I feel that reflection, when it is done ethically, embodies respect, fairness, equality, and justice. Unlike feedback, reflections are not offered with a view to giving explanations, interpretations, or in order to solve a problem. It is a relational connection that comes out of listening with and into the other.
According to Weingarten good reflections are based on “radical listening”. She insightfully says:
“Radical listening, above all, is welcoming. It is the kind of listening that neither judges nor prejudges, that hears what is absent as much as what is present, that pauses when words fail, and that discerns when the speaker is off center, unable to share her story authentically”.
She goes on:
“…listening entails hearing when something is said formulaically and identifying the discourses that have shaped the speaker’s “packaging” of experience. Opening up these constraints in conversation, deconstructing them, complements radical listening. Both radical listening and deconstruction are ethical practices.
…In reflection conversations, we are trying to create a situation in which people feel listened to, understood, cared about, cared for, and validated. We want the other to feel that something that has been split off or fragmented returns to them. We hope that a new feeling will arise, a feeling of relief, of “ah, I’m at home.” In a poem by Fox (1995), I find this notion echoed. In the last stanza, he writes: