A Quick Guide to Critical Thinking
The human mind is a wonderful thing. Millions of neurons come together to form cohesive thoughts, which are then reflected in one’s actions. These thoughts are meant to be fluid: circumstance and facts should be able to sway us in the right directions. Alas, that is seldom the case.
A lot of us struggle with changing our opinion once it is set. Once we’ve formed a point of view about something, we tend to ignore all facts that oppose our thought process.
What had felt right to us in the first instance of inference tends to stick for a long time. This inflexibility is due to an acute lack of critical thinking.
The ability to process any piece of information by only keeping the facts in mind regardless of any previous bias is known as critical thinking. It relies on you setting your prejudices and biases aside and making decisions by analysing concrete facts.
In the absence of this ability, you run the risk of being oblivious to information that counters your personal beliefs. Then the question is this – how do we break this barrier to make better-informed decisions?
Developing critical thinking skills is possible.
Critical Thinking is not a trait. It is a skill and can be learnt. With sufficient practice and effort, you can develop your mind to take in diverse points of view and make decisions only after a thorough analysis of every angle. Here are a couple of tips to get you started.
Think about Thinking:
A lot of the time, we let our thoughts run loose without giving them any deliberation. This results in poorly structured opinions based on first impressions.
Being able to accept that there’s an issue is the first step. You need time to sit and reflect about your beliefs and views about the current reality.
Having a macro view helps. Using the lenses of social, political, and organisational issues broadens your scope and points of references. Basically, everything that ‘matters’ to you as an individual living in a community – be it personal or work.
Being able to check your beliefs is another important skill. Think of it this way: there are a million issues plaguing this world, and hundreds that plague you.
So, what is the probability that your opinion about every one of them is correct?
Having this awareness of possible fallacies in your beliefs is possibly the first step towards the development of humility.
To be able to learn from others and about your own limitations is the first step in building critical thinking skills.
PRO TIP! When you build critical thinking skills, you’re also looking at how to develop yourself as a leader when handling conflict and building trust in virtual and in person. It’s like an EQ workshop and personal excellence rolled into one!
Actively seek out diverse opinions.
Merely understanding that your opinions may be faulty is not enough. How can you access information that counters your views? Yes, it can be annoying. It can be painful, too. The benefit, though, is quite significant.
It is very common to find yourself around information or people that completely agree with what you believe or say. Sometimes, these does more harm than good. It inhibits innovation and growth that healthy debates and discussions nurture. It makes teams rigid and polarises views.
“We need more naysayers…We need to create new formulas, which you can’t until you attack and challenge every sacred cow. Then you can succeed.”
~ Kishore Mahbubani, the dean of Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy, Singapore
As a leader, it is crucial to deliberately seek out opinions that challenge your own.
In teams, generally, everyone comes from a different background. Each person has had their fair share of challenges and insightful experiences that has created maps of their worlds.
They have different viewpoints and having an insight into them can help you gain a better understanding of the situation.
It is important that we consciously get out of our small social bubble of like-minded peers, friends and social circles to interact with people across all walks of life. It forces us out of our comfort zone, broadens our perspectives and helps us strengthen our thinking processes.
Insider Secret: The think on your feet training is a perfect fit in improving listening skills and having better conversations skills. Our team of facilitators and coaches enjoy challenging leaders in Singapore and Asia to give diverse opinions.
Rely on logical reasoning.
The formal practice of logic dates back at least two millennia, to the times of Aristotle. Until now, it has proven itself to be an excellent indicator of sound conclusions.
When you expose yourself to diverse information on any given subject, it can be a little overwhelming. It can be natural to take the easy path to decide on just ‘what feels right’. Surprise, surprise: what feels right might not always be right.
Paying attention to fallacies in the logic and making sure the evidence is verifiable, objective and known helps minimise wrong decision-making. Constantly questioning yourself on these two aspects is a neat kaizen-in-practice process.
Developing a skill is not an easy task; after all, Rome was not built in a day. You cannot expect to see instant results with this, it demands time and continuous application.
Critical thinking is something that seems obvious, yet it is seldom used in a deliberate manner. In the words of Nassim Nicholas Taleb, author of The Black Swan and Fooled by Randomness, “Most people are sceptical about the wrong things and gullible about the wrong things.”
Effort and resources play a huge part in your success, but so does thinking smart. So, get those mental gears turning and embark on your journey of rational thinking.