Blog Feature

By: Jeff Collins

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May 8th, 2018

Are You Thinking Critically?

We live in a knowledge-based society, and the more critically you think, the greater your knowledge will become. Critical thinking skills enable you to analyze and evaluate information so that you are able to make logical, informed decisions.

Critical thinking will allow you to be a more rational and disciplined thinker. It can reduce your prejudice and bias which will provide you a better understanding of your environment. This perspective can provide you the skills to evaluate, identify, and distinguish between relevant and irrelevant information. It will lead you to be more productive in your career, and provide a great skill in your everyday life.

While we possess the ability to reason, without critical thinking skills, our reasoning can be based on emotional bias as opposed to logistics. The ability to reason effectively is a critical thinking skill best used with our knowledge to distinguish fact from fiction. It is also important to keep an open mind by taking into account relevant evidence or arguments to enhance a current understanding.

Open-mindedness is the ability to willingly consider alternatives that may not support one’s own opinion. When we become close-minded, it inhibits our ability to learn new information. Once we have gathered this information, we can evaluate and analyze. Analysis is the process of deciphering an item or idea in order to simplify the complexity and gaining a better understanding of the subject. The final component of the critical thinking process uses logic for deriving conclusions based on facts, called premises.

Utilizing Non-Linear Thinking

We can approach critical thinking and problems in a step-by-step method, known as linear or vertical thinking. Often, we do not line up the facts in a typical step-by-step fashion. When we approach a problem in a different order, we are using non-linear thinking, sometimes referred to as lateral thinking.

Lateral thinking can be put into practice by using these tools:

  • Alternatives: Use general concepts and brainstorm how they can be implemented; this will generate new ideas and concepts to be considered
  • Focus: Take time to shift your focus to a part of the problem that might not be the main area of concern; this can help spark new ideas and insights
  • Harvesting: Spend time looking at how to turn a starter idea into workable solutions, even if the idea doesn’t seem like it would lead to the BEST solution
  • Challenge: Sometimes solutions are difficult to find because what’s already in place and working may be limiting the new solution. How can you change existing processes to help shape and fit your new ideas?

The Logic Process

A logical thinker should begin reasoning by asking the right questions, such as, “What are the premises?” Not fully understanding the premises may lead to mistakes in the logical process. No conclusions can be made without premises, and we must utilize the premises to ask the right questions.

Once the premises are understood and all information is obtained, it should be organized. For most people, an effective method of organizing data is dissecting the information and creating a visual layout of the premises. With this organized information, the logical thinker can proceed with an evaluation to determine whether the information is valid. Conclusions cannot be made until a distinction between validity and truth exists. Sometimes we have difficulty with distinguishing what is valid from what is true based on our inherent beliefs; this is called belief bias.

Finally, once the data has been collected, organized, and evaluated, you can start drawing conclusions. During this phase, it is important to infer only what the data implies, check to ensure inferences are consistent, and identify underlying assumptions. Does your logic process include these four steps?

  1. Step Out of Your Comfort Zone: This concept involves seeing information or circumstances from a different perspective. In critical-thinking and problem solving, we sometimes must stretch our thinking beyond the cognitive boundaries where we routinely find ourselves
  2. Don’t Jump to Conclusions: Take time to acquire the necessary information. We often tend to jump to conclusions before we have all of the facts.
  3. Expect and Initiate Change: In business, change is constant. We are sometimes in the position to initiate change.
  4. Being Ready to Adapt: Employees can protect themselves from becoming obsolete by changing with their environment.

What Do Critical Thinkers Have in Common?

The best communicators are active listeners. Active listening means the listener is completely engaged in what the speaker is communicating and analyzing what is being said. One common obstacle to active listening is the formulating one’s own thoughts while listening. Many of the world’s greatest scholars held a common goal to encourage curiosity and self-improvement.

There are numerous methods to engage curiosity, but the basis of each method involved raising questions. Critical thinkers are commonly more aware of the world of surrounding them. This awareness often leads to a commitment to self-development the desire to make their environment a better place. Despite this mindset, as critical thinkers, we need to be modest about our own opinion when someone else is expressing ideas. Being humble allows you to accept and understand information in a manner than is not affected by your ego.

One way to ensure that your questions are answered and ideas are heard is to take notes while listening; hold your questions and comments until the speaker has finished. It’s possible that they will already have an answer or similar idea as they express their full idea. When you have the full idea of the speaker, it gives you more time to think and formulate your opinion and questions/comments.

What is the Best Way to Evaluate All This Information?

In critical thinking, we want to have a strong sense of strategies or rules to use in problem-solving. This helps us engage more thoughtfully in the critical thinking process. However, we should not exclude our emotions in decision-making. The most important thing to remember is that evaluating information objectively enables us to be more deliberate. Emotions can play a pivotal role in the critical thinking process.

Empathy as a skill is very important when working with others; it allows us to experience another person’s feelings and emotions about the topic at hand – emotions that may differ from our own. When we know how others feel, it can increase our open-mindedness and help us to see all sides of the issue being discussed. The challenge with emotions in decision-making is not to allow emotions to overly influence your judgment.

You should be self-aware of your feelings, opinions and assumptions. Our assumptions are the basis of first impressions and the strongest emotions are filtered when we evaluate information.

Tips to Overcome Common Tendencies

Limitations of Your Point of View: the more open-minded and less biased you are, the less limited your point of view will become. The challenge of critical thinking is to avoid limitations to your point of view and not be constrained by mental blinders.

Considering Others Viewpoint: a challenge for a critical thinker is to step away from our own opinions and consider others viewpoint. This is much easier once we understand the benefits, which helps us become more objective and empathetic.

Influence on Bias: the first thing that can influence bias is the manner in which a person interprets information received. The other influence is the way in which the presenter frames this information. The key to not being influenced by hypothetical information is to remember that it is simply hypothetical and not factual. Confirm your understanding in question form, for example: “I think you’re saying…”

Receiving New Information: the most common way to handle new information is through an organized schema which indicates which role new information plays. It compartmentalizes this information into a familiar formation, making it easier for the critical thinker to use. If you do not have a schema to help you organize new information, consider creating an outline to assist you in categorizing.

Problem Solving

We can identify inconsistencies by using critical thinking to determine what attitudes and beliefs may be influencing the information we are receiving. Trusting your own instincts can help you make educated guesses and brainstorm effectively, leading to more successful creative processes. Many discoveries and inventions were made based on instincts and curiosity. Asking “Why?” enables the us as critical thinkers to dig deeper and explore alternative possibilities. Once possible solutions have been derived, as problem solvers, we should evaluate them against one other to determine the best path forward toward implementation – taking that action is our ultimate goal and the final step in problem solving!


The following steps are effective techniques:

  • Make a T-chart to weigh the pros and cons of each possible solution
  • Develop criteria and assign weights to each
  • Prioritize the criteria
  • Rate the proposed solutions using the criteria

Summary

In exploring the importance of critical thinking, we have shown how the skill to do so can impact decision making and foster new ideas. Practicing unbiased listening will help you have an open mind, and ultimately make better, more informed choices as well. These are skills that must be practiced and developed; we aren’t naturally inclined to do either.

When you are able to utilize these skills successfully, you can become a more persuasive speaker and an excellent problem-solver. Critical thinking and active listening are skills that can benefit us in both our professional and personal lives.

Take what you’ve learned here and put it into practice, even just one concept. Reevaluate your decision-making and problem-solving skills in a few months to see what a difference critical thinking can make!

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About Jeff Collins

Hi there, thanks for reading! As the President of IMS, I’ve just about seen it all in the project management industry. I’m happy to share my experiences to help managers and organizations improve their project performance. Please reach out to our team if you’re struggling to achieve your goals. We’d love to work with you to discover the PM solutions you need for success.

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