A critical thinker is careful about making assumptions and always questions what they read and hear. They take time to gather facts, differentiate between fact and opinion, weigh the evidence, and use logical reasoning to reach conclusions. A leader needs to be able to think critically to avoid the problems that occur when decisions are made impulsively without full consideration of the facts.
There are several different ways that critical thinkers use information:
They interpret the meaning of what is going on around them by putting it into context. In order to interpret correctly, they listen carefully, paying attention to body language and gestures as well as what is said. They are able to read graphs and charts and understand what the information presented means in a real world situation.
They analyze information. A common tool used to analyze information is to compare and contrast different versions of the same event. For example, in my work as a claims adjuster, I may hear different stories from the people involved in an accident. I search for the similarities and differences between the stories, review outside sources like weather reports and police reports, talk to witnesses, and consider why each party may give incorrect information and who appears more credible. In this way, I attempt to determine the facts behind the stories I am told so that I can make good decisions.
They assess credibility. This means that they are able to evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of an argument and determine if it is relevant to the question under discussion. They then draw conclusions based on their assessment of the available information. As you can see, this relates closely to the ability to analyze information.
They infer, or draw conclusions from the available information. They consider the likely consequences of a given course of action before deciding if they should proceed.
There are several things you can do to help yourself become a better critical thinker:
Be self-aware. We all have underlying beliefs and assumptions that color the way we view the world. If you are aware of your underlying beliefs and how others may see things differently, you are able to take a step back and look at a situation from a different angle. This can help to clarify the best course of action. If we make assumptions that are ill-conceived without awareness, it can cause serious errors in judgment.
Understand the decision making process. We all make numerous decisions every day without much thought. But when your decisions can have serous consequences, it’s wise to approach them in an organized way. First, decide what you need to decide! Before you start looking for an answer, you have to know what the question is. Then decide what information you will need in order to make a good decision.
There’s too much information out there to gather it all, you will never get your decision made that way. What information is essential to making a good decision? What information is not essential but would be nice to have? What is the cost of obtaining the information (consider time as well as money)? How does that compare to the importance of your decision? Then decide how to gather your information.
Collect and review the information you need and generate several possible solutions. Predict the probable consequences of each solution and consider the worst possible outcome. Then compare your options and pick the best one.
Be informed. Keep up with the news and read extensively in your field. Take classes if you need to to stay up to date. Consult with your colleagues and supervisors to keep a balanced perspective.
Choose your advisers well. Pick advisers that show good critical thinking skills themselves. Listen to how they explain their conclusions. Try to copy their methods of research, analysis, and problem solving.
Take your time. Don’t rush to conclusions. Be sure to consider a number of good options before you make your decision. Considering all options may not be realistic due to the time constraints we face, but if you consider several acceptable options before reaching your decision you will have the highest chance of attaining your goals.
By Andrew Clapton