Have you ever listened to a presentation with a furrowed brow, aware of flaws but unable to pinpoint them? Have you found yourself resistant to an alternative point of view or a change of plan for reasons you can’t quite articulate? Have you had a ‘gut feeling’ about the answer to a problem — but can’t explain why it’s the right thing?
The solution to each of these problems is to apply critical thinking. But while that’s a familiar business term, it is not always a skill people feel confident in. Consider the words of psychology author, A E Mander:
Thinking is skilled work. It is not true that we are naturally endowed with the ability to think clearly and logically — without learning how or without practising
In countless workplace scenarios — brainstorms, meetings, 1-2-1s, when being asked a question by a colleague, report or a manager — there is (an often perceived or self-enforced) pressure to think and react to a situation immediately. By practising the art of critical thinking, you feel more able to overcome this urge — to take that all-important time to pause, ‘think slow’, and consider a situation from all sides. When you objectively analyse information, from multiple different angles, you are better able to understand a problem and create better solutions.
STEPS TO BECOMING A CRITICAL THINKER, BY EVERYWOMAN EXPERT PIPPA ISBELL
1. DEVELOP A LEARNING MINDSET
This is incredibly conducive to practising critical thinking. Try learning something new every day, even if — especially if — this pushes you out of your comfort zone. An extension of this ‘open mindedness’ is becoming more aware of your biases and embracing difference. Exposing yourself to the lived experiences and views of others is a great way of doing this.
2. NEUTRALISE YOUR EMOTIONS
Humans, unlike animals, have the ability to think before reacting to situations. We are able to think for ourselves above our primitive instincts — and we should fully utilise this power. Critical thinking exercises this ability to gather facts, use logic and reasoning to view the situation from every angle, as well as learn from our past experiences. Keeping your emotions out of this process is very important when objectively considering a problem — there’s a reason why ‘sleep on it’ is the universal advice to anyone mulling over a particularly challenging decision or conflict situation.
3. CHALLENGE YOUR OWN THINKING
Investigating and challenging your own thinking is instrumental to personal and professional progress, as it inevitably leads to better solutions. The key is to embed this form of self-investigative reflection into your day-to-day routine and establish it as a habit. Women are often driven to establish peace and common ground, and so constructive conflict can be something they struggle with, but it’s an essential element of critical thinking. Talking and debating with people who don’t necessarily share your world views can help you to examine your arguments from other angles.
The ultimate goal is to look beyond the surface of issues and incorporate critical thinking into your daily routine. Applied or critical thinking would lead you to do your homework, basing your reasoning on facts and evidence rather than on the first piece of information that pops into your mind. There may be a different truth out there than the one you think you know.