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Start Learning from your Experiences

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Essential Skills for Your Organization

It is hard to explain things sometimes, most people find that they learn best from experience. However, if you don’t reflect on your experience, and if you don’t consciously think about how you could do better next time, it’s hard for you to learn anything at all. In this article I will give you a Gibbs model that you will be able to use to start learning from experiences.


From “Learning by Doing” by Graham Gibbs. Published by OxfordPolytechnic, 1988.

You can use Gibbs’ Reflective Cycle to make sense of situations at work, so that it is easier to understand then, what did you do well and what could you do better next time. You can use this model to explore a situation yourself, or you can use it with someone you’re coaching.

Step 1: Description

First, describe the situation in detail. At this stage, you simply want to understand what happened. Consider asking yourself the following questions to help describe the situation:

  • When and where did this happen?
  • Why were you there?
  • Who else was there?
  • What happened?
  • What did you do?
  • What did other people do?
  • What was the result of this situation?

Step 2: Feelings 

Next, talk about what you thought and felt during the experience. The following questions are going to help learning from experience:

  • What did you feel before this situation happened?
  • What did you feel while this situation was taking place?
  • What do you think other people felt during this situation?
  • What did you feel after this situation?
  • What do you think about this situation now?
  • What do you think other people feel about this situation now?

Step 3: Evaluation

Now you need to look objectively at which approaches worked, and which ones didn’t.

Ask yourself or your coachee:

  •  What was positive about this situation?
  • What was negative?
  • What went well?
  • What didn’t go so well?
  • What did you and other people do to contribute to this situation (either positively or negatively)?

Use 5Whys technique to uncover the root or the cause of the issue.

Step 4: Conclusions

Once you’ve evaluated the situation, you can draw some conclusions about what happened. Think about the situation again, using the information that you’ve got so far. Then ask questions like these:

  • How could this have been a more positive experience for everyone involved?
  • If you were faced with the same situation again, what would you do differently?
  • What skills do you need to develop, so that you can handle this kind of situation better?

Step 5: Action

You should now have some possible actions that you or your coachee can take to deal with similar situations more effectively in the future.

In this last stage, you need to come up with a plan so that you can make these changes. Once you’ve identified the areas you will work on, commit to taking action, and define a date on which you will review your progress.

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