We all know someone like this: they’ve been doing what they do for twenty years and they think that gives them twenty years of experience, when, in fact, they have one year of experience that they’ve simply repeated for twenty years.
Years ago, when I was around 23 or so, I had an epiphany that was painful at the time but that led to great learning. I was one of those people that would start a new job, become really good at it, but just couldn’t seem to get along with co-workers. More than that, no matter what job I had, I always seemed to have the same problem. The faces of the co-workers changed, but the problem remained. One day, I was reflecting on my very bad luck to always have these difficult co-workers, when the Universe tapped me on the shoulder and said: “What’s the common denominator, Bobbi?”
In that moment, I – luckily – realized that I was part of the problem. That’s when I began studying communication, leadership and what’s now known as Emotional Intelligence. It’s also when I began a practice and habit that I use in a variety of ways to this day. Here’s what it looked like back then:
At the end of every workday, I would go home and journal about the following:
- What interactions went well today? What led to them going well?
- What interactions didn’t go as well as I would have liked for them to go? How did I contribute to that outcome? What did I learn from it?
- What could I do in the future that might lead to a better outcome?
I did that every single workday for about a year. It was a little tedious, but if I wanted to become a good communicator and truly master that craft, I had to put in the work to make it happen. I didn’t know it at the time, but now looking back with the hindsight of studying it in undergrad and grad school, I now know why it worked.
- By asking myself those questions, I was, in essence, coaching myself and building my awareness. One of the key benefits of having a coach is that the coach can help us see ourselves in action. That’s the key to building awareness. Awareness is the first step to change. I was at a coaching conference at Harvard many years ago and I got to see John Whitmore (a true legend in coaching) speak and he said, “Awareness is often curative.” When we become aware of the problem, we can begin to solve it.
- I was also building my awareness of where I had choice in those interactions. Let’s face it: all those things didn’t just “happen” to me; I was co-creating them. Once we recognize where our choice is, we can teach ourselves how to make better choices.
- The last question relative to what I could do in the future is really – and strangely – powerful. By thinking through specifically what I could do differently, I was actually training my brain to be ready to act in the future. Think of it as building muscle memory.
When I started speaking in 2002, I implemented a similar reflection process for myself at the end of every keynote and every breakout session. Of course, the questions changed a little. They looked like this:
- What went well in the presentation? What led to those results?
- What didn’t go as well as I would have liked? Why?
- What, if anything, could I do differently in the future?
I’ve been a professional speaker since 2003, and I had been training and facilitating for years before that, and, to this day, when I conclude a presentation or a workshop, I still ask myself those questions. I don’t journal about them anymore unless it’s something more challenging, but I’m still working on my craft. I heard a quote once and I can’t seem to find who said it, but it was this: “The amateur practices until they get it right; the master practices until they cannot get it wrong.”
For those things that are important to me, I want to master them and this is just one of the practices and habits that I’ve used that have helped me to move in that direction.