Self reflection is the gateway to learning from experience, for both sales professionals, and the people responsible for coaching them. The tricky part is finding the time to invest in self reflection, but also - and this could be the real reason it happens less in sales - is having a reliable way to do it.
Self reflection takes learning from experience to a whole new level, extracting the real gems from a sales interaction and developing valuable skills that can be refined and applied in other situations.
In this article I’ll share a model for self reflection from Graham Gibbs (full book here) that salespeople and sales coaches can easily implement today, whether you're using it by yourself, or with those you manage.
There are six steps, it’s easy to follow, and it can have a major impact on performance. What’s not to like?
Those 6 steps are:
- Description – What happened?
- Feelings – What were your thoughts and feelings?
- Evaluation – What was good and bad about the situation?
- Analysis – What sense can you now make of the situation?
- Conclusions – What else might you have done?
- Action Plan – What would you do next time?
Applying the model to self reflection in sales
You can use the Gibbs’ Cycle to frame and implement a coaching session, simply identify the situation you plan to analyse and reflect upon - then work through each of the following stages:
Stage 1 – Description
At the outset, the task is just to gather a detailed description of the situation from the person you wish to coach. This could be a discovery call, online demo, or face to face sales meeting. For now, there’s no need to draw any conclusions from what happened.
Here are some prompt questions to get the juices flowing:
- Where and when did this occur?
- Why were you there?
- Who else was present?
- What happened on this occasion?
- What action did you take?
- What action did other people take?
- What was the outcome?
Gather enough background information to set the context, but aim to keep things concise and relevant. Try and keep to the point, extra detail will just obscure things, making it more difficult for the person you’re coaching (or you) to learn from the experience.
Stage 2 – The ‘F’ word - Feelings
Now prompt the coachee to talk through the thoughts and feelings he or she had during the experience. For now, try to keep the contributions focused and relevant whilst avoiding making any comment about the emotions.
The following series of questions, or something similar, can be used to structure the conversation:
- How were you feeling before this situation occurred?
- How did you feel while this situation was ongoing?
- How do you think the others present were feeling during this situation?
- How did you feel immediately afterwards?
- And what are your thoughts about the situation right now?
- How do you believe the other people now feel about the situation?
Personal feelings invariably influence a situation, and some people will find it tricky to talk openly and honestly about their feelings. Always make an effort to understand how they see things and, where necessary, use those honed listening skills to establish and maintain trust.
The Perceptual Positions technique (borrowed from N.L.P and outlined below) is a helpful way to support people to look at the situation from different points of view.
Stage 3 – Evaluation
Next, you should encourage the colleague you're supporting to look at what happened with an open mind and consider which approaches worked, and which ones seemed ineffective.
Some useful prompts would be:
- Can you identify what was positive about this situation?
- And can you identify what was negative?
- What do you believe went well?
- What do you think went less well?
- How did you react or contribute to the situation (positively or negatively)?
- How did you the other people react or contribute to the situation (positively or negatively)?
When the time is right, you should probe with a series of 'why questions' to guide the person to discover the root cause of the problem.
Stage 4 – Analysis
During this stage, you need to encourage your colleague to link what actually happened to past experiences, training and/or their existing knowledge of established best practice.
You could encourage reflection on what actually happened by asking:
- What choices did you make?
- What effect did those choices have?
- What things did you do which helped the situation?
- What things did you do which hindered the situation?
- How was this situation like your previous experiences?
- How was this situation different from your previous experiences?
This stage is a vital coaching moment. It’s a chance to make stronger links between theory and practice by helping your colleague to really reflect on what happened, and therefore convert learning and knowledge into action. Reflection like this identifies what they know (but may need support to apply) as well as what they don’t know (which may indicate a training or further coaching need).
Stage 5 – Conclusions
Once the analysis is complete, you can guide your colleague towards drawing some conclusions about what took place. This process involves encouraging him or her to review the event in the light of all the information which has been jointly gathered.
This could involve questions such as:
- What might have made this a more positive experience for all those involved?
- What would you do differently if you found yourself facing the same situation in the future?
- So you can handle this kind of situation better next time, what specific skills will you need to acquire or develop?
It’s very unlikely this will be a wholly negative experience. So in addition to discussing what your colleague may need to do to change, it’s equally important to give credit for positive actions and reinforce behaviours and strategies which can be repeated to ensure future positive outcomes.
Stage 6 – Action Plan
By now you should be able to identify some possible strategies your colleague could employ to deal with similar events more effectively when they arise in the future. So use this final stage to develop an action plan which addresses how he can make these changes.
Any plan should be able to answer the following question:
- If a similar situation arose again, what would you do next time?
Having identified the changes which need to be put in place, get your colleague to formally commit to making these improvements. This should include agreeing a future date for a joint review of progress or future coaching.
Extra tips for the self reflection process:
Neurolinguistic Perceptual Positions - handy when encouraging different perspectives.
There are three main perceptual viewpoints:
- First position: adopting your own perspective
- Second position: adopting the perspective of others in the situation
- Third position: adopting a detached onlooker’s perspective
Considering the alternative perspectives of other participants and a detached onlooker helps to expand our own understanding.
The ‘I’ and 'me' mode. This is used when a person wishes to say what they want. So it’s an assertive mode driven by personal feelings and used to achieve personal goals.
While this is an important dimension, it would be insensitive to always operate from this position alone.
The ‘walking in someone else’s shoes’ mode. You literally walk through the event in question seeing it through their eyes. Importantly, this must include seeing your own actions from their point of view. So try to, temporarily, abandon your own thoughts, feelings and beliefs.
This perspective brings new information into consideration: You develop empathy for an alternative view, you see your own actions in another light, and you get to understand what it feels like to be subjected to your behaviour.
This is ‘CCTV’ mode. We experience the event from the perspective of a detached witness. Standing back in this way helps to understand the relationship in progress between ourselves and others. This viewpoint can generate insights which are likely to be more analytical in nature.
This approach can be really valuable, especially where an event involves ‘charged’ moments and can be really helpful for encouraging shifts in thinking and behaviour.
So there you have it, an overview of a model that can be used to excavate key coachable moments from a sales conversation, whether it's your own, or someone your responsible for coaching.
In Refract this type of coaching is a breeze, you can record analyze a particular sales call, surfacing key insights and encouraging the coachee to record their new response based on your coaching.