This article describes the Critical Thinking in a practical way. After reading you will understand the basics of this powerful type of decision making.
What is Critical Thinking?
Nowadays, we are bombarded with information from social media and other channels. Should we just accept all of this as true and is all information accurate and objective? We are currently seeing a lot of so-called ‘fake news’. By applying Critical Thinking, we can objectively look at and evaluate information. This new era requires new skills, and Critical Thinking can help separate fact from fiction. The Greek root of the word ‘critical’ means ‘judgement’. In the context of CT, critical does not imply ‘disapproving’ or ‘negative’, but is intended to provide an objective analysis of information.
Critical Thinking originated from a method that was developed by Goodwin Watson and Edward Glaser starting in 1925. They concluded that the relationship between absorbing information and the effectiveness and efficiency could be objectively assessed. Together they developed the Watson-Glaser assessment, which further analyses critical thinking ability. Critical Thinking provides an objective way to distinguish between candidates during an assessment, even when they have the same education, motivation and skills. This reduces the chance of choosing a less suitable candidate to a minimum.
Critical Thinking is a practical and scientific method of thinking. This method enables people to evaluate and assess information in a new way, allowing for better and quicker decision making. Critical Thinking is a skill to curb our natural tendency to make assumptions. It also helps to prevent people from accepting new information as truth too quickly and helps people recognise and prevent fallacies in advance. Critical thinking allows both individuals and organisations to demonstrably think in a better and more structured way, and makes it easier to assess and evaluate complex information. It is helpful for strategic thinking, problem solving, making better use of intuition, learning to evaluate better, and recognising the essence of things. It reduces information to a clear and accurate source.
Critical Thinking enables people to critically consider their own arguments and evaluate them right away. By constantly questioning one’s own assumptions, it makes it possible to reconsider them based on clear counter arguments. It also enables others to critically assess someone’s assumptions. In both cases, it is important to have the intention to keep an open mind when trying to find out the truth, be analytical and curious, and not come to conclusions prematurely.
How does it work?
The RED model is a way to apply Critical Thinking. RED stands for Recognise assumptions, Evaluate arguments, and Draw conclusions:
By recognising assumptions beforehand, facts can be separated from opinions. It is misleading and easy to listen to someone or read something and immediately assume that the information is true, despite there not being enough evidence. Commenting on and questioning an assumption helps to find gaps in the information or the underlying logic. The assumption can also be considered from different points of view and/or stakeholders.
How to use it? It is important to consider your limitations, prejudices and assumptions before you listen to people or assess a situation. Most supervisors will at first probably assume that their best employee always provides reliable information. But does the supervisor have enough evidence for that and is the information provided by the employee complete? By asking multiple open-ended questions, the supervisor can determine whether the information is complete and correct, and not mostly based on the employee’s opinion.
The skill of evaluating arguments requires analysing information in objective and accurate ways. It also means questioning the quality of supporting evidence and understanding the role emotion plays in the situation. Common difficulties include preconceptions or subjective evaluation. People have a tendency to jump to conclusions in order to avoid conflict. By remaining objective and testing the reliability of the information, more accurate conclusions can be achieved.
How to use it? People often find it difficult to evaluate conflicting information because of subconscious emotions or because people only hear what they want to hear. By asking yourself if you have correctly heard and understood the information, you can objectively analyse it. In addition, critical questions such as ‘what can I do with the information’, ‘am I still missing information’, and ‘what information do I need to come to a carefully considered conclusion’, can help people think before they act.
This skill enables people to gather all kinds of information and to come to logical conclusions based on the available evidence. No conclusions are drawn as long as there is insufficient evidence, so research continues until there is enough evidence.
How to use it? In the end, it is all about the result. Thinking critically allows you to look at a situation from different perspectives. The true picture emerges, including background and surroundings.
It is easier to make difficult decisions or solve complex problems when you have the right conclusions.
Critical Thinking is based on self-correcting concepts and principles. It does not lead to baseless, absolute certainties. It is a continuing process that leads one ever closer to the truth. It teaches people to analyse and assess information independently from others and come to well-founded conclusions.
Prejudices and subjective information are quickly recognised, and it becomes easier to see what is important and distinguish between relevant and irrelevant information. People will have an open mind for counter-arguments and alternative opinions. This way, gathering subjective information can lead to a fairer conclusion.
It’s Your Turn
What do you think? How do you apply Critical Thinking in today’s modern business world? Do you recognize the practical explanation or do you have more additions? What are your success factors for making the right decisions?
Share your experience and knowledge in the comments box below.
- Cottrell, S. (2017). Critical Thinking Skills: Effective Analysis, Argument and Reflection. Palgrave Macmillan.
- Halpern, D.F. (2013). Thought and Knowledge: An Introduction to Critical Thinking. Psychology Press.
- Kuhn, D. (1999). A developmental model of critical thinking. Educational researcher, 28(2), 16-46.
- Watson, G. (1980). Watson-Glaser critical thinking appraisal. San Antonio, TX: Psychological Corporation.
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