Put Your Best Self Forward: The reflected best-self exercise

RBSDo you remember the last time you were extraordinary at work? I’m sure you can recall several moments when your best efforts were recognized and affirmed by others. Memories like these create a portrait of our “best selves” and can help us create a personal vision of who we can become. This portrait or vision is called the reflected best self (RBS).

Let’s break the term down to better understand its purpose. “Reflected” refers to the idea that our self-concept is based on our perception of how others view us. The word “Best” emphasizes that the focus is on our strengths, contributions, and enduring talents. In their article, “Composing the Reflected Best-Self Portrait,” Quinn et al. (2003) propose that we become even more extraordinary when we seek out feedback from others about our strengths and use this information to create a Reflected Best-Self Portrait. By envisioning ourselves at our best, we can then act on this vision to translate possibilities into realities.

The RBS is an exercise that you might use in coaching or OD practice to help individuals and organizations increase their success. It’s also an excellent strategy to boost the morale and confidence of workers so they can do great work. When we are in touch with the qualities and characteristics, we display when we are at our best, we can then more readily duplicate that performance in new settings to become even more extraordinary. In essence, we can increase our human capital and evolve in the direction of our capability and potential (Coleman, 1988). What’s unique about RBS is that all feedback solicited is positive in nature. Rather than asking others to tell us what we are doing wrong, we ask them to tell us what we are doing right.

If this sounds like something you’d like to try yourself or use as a tool with others, you can learn more about the RBS process which involves soliciting positive feedback from others (who doesn’t like compliments?) and using the feedback to construct a self-portrait of abilities.

What are your thoughts about RBS? Do you see yourself applying the process to yourself? Why or why not?


Coleman, James S. “Social capital in the creation of human capital.” American journal of sociology (1988): S95-S120.

Quinn, Robert E., et al. “Reflected Best Self Exercise.” Center for Positive Organizational Scholarship, University of Michigan (2003).

Learn more at:


Click to access ReflectedBestSelfExerciseIntroduction2014Careers_000.pdf


  • Greetings,

    I like the Reflected Best Self (RBS) concept.
    This is the first time that I have heard of RBS but can definitely see huge rewards from its application. It is customary that we focus on the negative and try to improve without adequate time devoted to the positive. I can certainly see myself applying this technique. It should provide the framework for increasing productivity, efficiency and results. Taking your strengths to the next level would seem to provide opportunities to improve in “opportunity for improvement” areas as well.

    Thank you,

  • I found this article very interesting. I had heard the term Reflected Best Self (RBS) before but never really read much into it. The philosophy behind it seems sound too with elements taken from Positive Psychology. I appreciate the focus on one’s strengths. I think a critical error many managers make is their sole focus on correcting problems and their failure to acknowledge what is right. If subordinates only ever hear criticism from their managers, the morale of that organization must be pretty low and I wouldn’t be surprised if they also had high turn-over. We feel good when our managers acknowledge our successes.

    I’ll never forget at one of my previous jobs I was working on this massive project. My counterpart left the organization and that left me solely in charge with very little support. Not to mention this was the first time I had ever taken up a task such as this. I managed to hit 140% of our goals and objectives, not even something their more experienced employees achieved. And yet, when the recap of the project came, I never once got a “thank you” or a “good job.” My boss actually opened the meeting by criticizing me over some minute details and that was the tone for the remainder of the meeting. He glossed over all my incredibly hard work completely ignoring my accomplishments. My enthusiasm died after that and I swiftly began looking for another job.

  • Quick note: one of the links for the reflected best self (RBS) process pdf no longer works! However, the other links and the article explain the concept very well, it is very similar to the concept behind 360 Feedback, but more along the lines of doing it yourself. I see this as a great way to development yourself professionally if your organization does not employ a 360 Feedback or one on one interventions with the desired frequency employees require.
    Also, I see it as a great tool for the individual if they feel they are personally stagnant in their organization, RBS can help determine what parts of an individual’s performance are strengths and therefore enhance them for further development or selling points to any organization. The only challenge I see here is finding individuals who will assist in providing only positive feedback for the process after the right individual(s) have been found this process can become a win-win situation for everyone.

  • I think this article really hit home the key areas regarding self-reflection. Not only is this tenet worthwhile, it truly can be a career/personality boost in the workplace. At my own workplace, I give a brief to my direct reports to look at themselves holistically prior to adding documentation in their reviews. I remind them that just because they may not grade themselves high, it will not necessarily impact how I grade them. Hence, there is a better chance of honesty and the associate gains a better understanding of themselves.

  • loved this article. I am a big on self awareness and leaders knowing who they are before they lead others. RBS is a great tool to be used in coaching. That is the class that I am taking right now (Executive Coaching). Thanks for positing Prof Iverson!

  • I have never heard of the RBS term until reading the post under this blog and I have to admit I think it is a great term to incorporate with coaching. Being able to point out the positive actions in a situation verses the negatives gives individuals hope that there is room for improvement without feeling bad about it. Recognizing the strengths can help them incorporate them to counter the weaknesses. I would definitely apply the RBS process to myself in hopes that it will give me that boost of satisfaction and determination that I need to continue to work towards a job well done.

  • The RBS process sounds like a great tool that can support the development of any professional at any level with an organization. This is where I find it to hold so much weight as a necessary resource. It’s not limited to the executive or the frontline worker, it’s universal. It’s nice for personal and professional use. I also see this being used as part of a great retention strategy around performance evaluation and salary compensation.

  • This article fits in nicely with the TRDV 420. I am currently working on studying the Donald Super – Life-Span/Life-Space Theory. Within that theory, he speaks about self-concept and believes that people tend to choose careers that permit them to express their self-concept.

    I believe that RBS can play a big part into expanding someone’s self-concept. What I like about this posting is that it speaks about seeking feedback about your strengths. By gathering feedback on strengths this can help to build confidence and stretch someone to believe that they can do more.
    Great article, I especially like the exercise guide provided I do think that will be beneficial for me in the future.
    Thanks for sharing.

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