Why a Reflection Pause is Critical to Performance – Tip #142

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The workplace has changed. Regardless of what industry or sector you are in, the speed of work has increased over the last few years influencing the idea of agility in the workspace. One of the key drivers of this increase in pace is technology. Whether it is software, hardware, online services, cloud technology – or whatever is coming next, the result is an ever increasing change. Telecommunication companies are now media companies (AT&T buys Time Warner), software companies combine with others to enhance their services (Microsoft buys LinkedIn), and even your local grocery stores are being swallowed by online retailers (Amazon wants to buy Whole Foods).

It is easy to forget that at the heart of all of this significant and constant change are the workers. Whether professional development or on the job trainings, they are who we serve as learning professionals and we can’t lose sight that change affects the learner.

How does change impact learning?

The answer to this question can be approached from various points of view. I will focus my answer to what I have observed when looking through the idea of reflection. According to Joseph A. Raelin, author of “Work-Based Learning: Bridging Knowledge and Action in the Workplace (2008),” when referring to the three critical areas of the work-based learning process, he suggests:

He continues by adding that learning happens at 3 levels:

1. First Order Learning – Reflecting and questioning prior actions that prove reliable may influence the choice to try something different.
2. Second Order Learning – Learning about concepts are deepened by looking critically at our own responses and transferring that understanding into other contexts
3. Third Order Learning – Realizing that how we have previously perceived the world may have been based on biases and not necessarily truth

Why does reflection matter in fast evolving work situations?

Author and expert, Roger Schank, addresses the need for the worker to expect that failure is a part of learning and the decision-making process. He emphasizes:

The process detailed is surprising but can be viewed as a kind of error-analysis-based diagnostic. We don’t like the negative consequences that occur when we make mistakes as it is a complete somatic response. Our brains respond by placing the experience in a retrievable place, making it easy for us to recall the incident when faced with similar situations. This recall, which could also be seen as a form of reflection, is then used to guide us towards better or more effective choices.

Schank provides an example of this process when sharing a story about a captain dealing with his ship’s exhaust gas boiler catching fire while navigating through the Suez Canal. He makes the point that what seems to be the logical thing to do, stop the ship and put out the fire, is not how experienced captains would respond. Why? Because they have learned that the red tape and corruption associated with stopping the ship and then leaving the canal once the fire has been attended far outweighs the extent of damage the fire would cause to the the ship.

If we look deeper into the story we may find that the Captain is in the process of constant diagnosis as he must navigate his ship through a very delicate and involved process, monitor the condition of the fire, anticipate the possible damage to the hull and protect the lives and cargo aboard the ship. This kind of reflection must happen at an accelerated rate as one miscalculation has many possible consequences attached. We also know that it has been the collection of similar incidents and their associated negative experiences, that the decision to move forward comes from the recall of others’ experiences, making this a social reflection. The ability to reflect becomes crucial to ever-evolving work situations. This is how the workers need to be prepared to work and how they need to be trained to respond.

Accelerating diagnostic skills and improving the ability to reflect leads to efficiency and excellence in the workplace

Learning and content development professionals typically rely on mainstream models of learning behaviors to assist in understanding the needs of the worker. I ask how do we update, adjust or refine these learning models to truly meet the needs of the worker who must navigate a face-paced working atmosphere? Let’s return to the issue of workers consistently needing to quickly diagnose and respond to situations appropriately.

1. Rapid, invisible and intuitive cycle
The cycle is invisible to observe because it is intuitive and happens in milliseconds. Though issues associated with this project may be small or large and may vary in complexity, this process still applies. Hiring someone, for example, may look like: we need to find the right person for the job; during the interview we diagnose the person instantly; the applicant responds, “I can’t work more than 40 hours” and we ask ourselves why? We then use this fact to determine if it works as a solution for the problem. Then we ask another question or go to the next interviewee. This sequence is done several times.
2. Immediate Diagnosis = Quick fix
Workers are aware of and driven by gaps in their work product or outcomes. Because they know the expectations, goals and parameters of their tasks, they must diagnose each gap quickly and effectively to ensure a timely desired outcome. For example: In a bottling company, any equipment stoppage is detrimental to the entire processing system. To avoid the loss in production and time, workers must constantly diagnose the output of the equipment to determine if it is functioning correctly.
3. Time for reflection results in responsive actions
The challenge for workers is having the time and space to reflect on their work, their team’s work and the reasoning behind whether their goals were met or not. When we don’t allow workers room for ongoing reflection, even within the shortest possible moment to review, how can we expect them to make better choices or discover more effective ways to meet and even exceed expectations? Workers can not make responsive decisions without being given the time to do so.
4. Reflection is key
The reflection moment, therefore, is critical if this is what we desire of our workers. Reflection needs time so that the worker may apply their experience to, or inquire possible alternative solutions to the pending problem. It also ensures that the worker will be better prepared and quicker to respond since time was devoted to both diagnosing and reflecting on the problem and possible solutions. Failure to reflect may result in a lack of ability to fix, solve and improve the gaps in results and performance.

Now you apply or test this theory

1. The Reflection Pause
When designing any form of learning, add the thinking process and design opportunities for learners to reflect on how they may apply the learned ideas or concepts. This can be accomplished by providing more time and building in the deliberate pauses for reflection. A reflection pause may need to be taught and learned. One way to encourage workers to engage in a reflection pause is to ask them to pause and think about what they want to say before they speak their minds. This gives time for them to reflect upon if what they are about to say, or how they are about to say it, conveys what their intent is for sharing.
2. Start with an inquiry: “How would you solve this?”
Start training with a situation the learner and worker are familiar with and can diagnose. This enables them to quickly and unconsciously, rely on their inner diagnostic process. This is important because there is no prospect for reflection if there is no opportunity for diagnosis. This process opens the mind and prepares it for learning; which is why starting with a lecture closes the mind of the learner. Asking them what they would do, immediately engages the diagnostic process. By the way, you can apply this to almost any person to person interaction, including discussions with your kids (smile).


Ultimately, as learning professionals, we must remember who our audience is and where their needs lie. In an agile setting that is filled with fast moving changes and requires quick and informed responses, it behooves us to design moments that allow workers to digest what they have learned, discovered, and uncovered in the process of diagnosing problems and choosing the best possible solutions. This pause to reflect moves worker response from adequate to dynamic and informed. The impact of this simple action could make the difference between a small error and a million dollar mistake.


Are you guilty of interrupting the learners learning?
Tip #68 – Why Reflect? The Role of Reflection in the Learning Process
Tip #69 – Reflections Impact Performance
Tip #132 – “Keep This A Secret…”
Tip #136 – How My Life Changed with Virtual Learning and Webinars

Additional Articles Referenced

AT&T is Buying Time Warner Because the Future is Google
Microsoft Just Finalized Its Deal for Linkedin – Here’s What Happens Next
Whole Foods Stock Rockets 28% on $13.7 Billion Amazon Takeover Deal


S.I. Meisel & D.S. Featon, Leading Learning. pp. 2-3 in S.A. Cavaleri and D.S. Fearon (eds), Managing in Organizations That Learn. Blackwell, Cambridge, MA.1996
Raelin, Joseph A. Work-Based Learning: Bridging Knowledge and Action in the Workplace. Jossey Bass, San Francisco, CA.  2008
Schank, Roger C. The Future of Decision Making. (p 8). Palgrave Macmillan, New York, NY. 2010
Schank, Roger C. The Future of Decision Making. (pp 6-7). Palgrave Macmillan, New York, NY. 2010

Ray Jimenez, PhD
Vignettes Learning
“Helping Learners Learn Their Way”