Do you react to situations based on your emotions or personal biases? Are you looking for ways to improve communication and the flow of ideas with those around you? There are skills that have the capability to greatly improve your capacity to make objective, effective choices and arguments, and those are critical thinking skills. Without these skills, arguments can often be one-sided. Criticism can feel like a personal attack on your character rather than an opportunity to open up dialogue and communicate productively.
Let’s take a look at how to develop critical thinking skills so that you can walk into any situation with the tools needed to set intense emotions aside and make insightful decisions.
1. Become a self-critic.
The very first and most important step for developing critical thinking skills is becoming a critic of your own thoughts and actions. Without self-reflection, there can’t be growth. You can break down your own thoughts by asking yourself why you believe something. When you do this, you need to clarify your thoughts by assessing this information objectively and finding a solid logic to what you believe, rather than just a muddled idea. Why do I believe this? Can I think of examples in my life when this proved true or false? Am I attached to this idea emotionally? Why? When we self-reflect, we are able to observe how we respond to a situation, in our minds and out loud.
Another aspect of becoming a self-critic is acknowledging your strengths, weaknesses, personal preferences and biases. When you know this information, you can understand why you approach certain situations from a specific perspective, and then you can step around that viewpoint because you are aware of its presence.
Thinking and listening are nearly impossible to do at the same time. To become a critical thinker, you need to be able to listen to others’ ideas, arguments and criticisms without thinking of your response or reaction while they are speaking. You can’t properly absorb the information someone is trying to convey to you if you don’t take the time to truly listen. Listening allows us to feel empathy. We hear someone else’s story, struggles, ideas, successes and passions, and how they reached them. When we hear their perspective, we can take that information and analyze it. When we use active listening skills, we can fully understand what someone is trying to tell us because that conversation continues until all parties can reiterate what the other is trying to say.
3. Analyzing information.
Analyzing information is paramount for critical thinking. No one thinks critically at all times. Sometimes our joy, anger, sadness or other emotions are too great, and other times we struggle to focus on the central issue at hand. To reach success, we need to analyze the information before us, whether it is information in our mind or being shared by others. We can break it down by assessing what is being said, and ensuring that we clearly understand what it is that needs to happen. Then we can dissect and appraise all arguments, including our own, and think about how the decisions would impact others, as well as the bottom line. When we can step back and analyze an argument, it allows us to approach it from an objective viewpoint.
Critical thinking isn’t much help if you can’t communicate in a nonviolent, productive way. When listening and analyzing different arguments, you first need the ability to recognize valid logic. Then you need to be able to communicate with other people in a productive way. The basis of nonviolent communication is compassion, observation and collaboration. When we approach any scenario with compassion, we are already in a peaceful mindset, rather than a defensive one. When we observe, we can observe our arguments and others without judgment and evaluation. We can detach our emotions from an idea. He doesn’t like my idea, so he must not like me. And collaboration naturally happens when everyone comes into the process with a compassionate, open mind, with the focus on solving the objective at hand rather than protecting anyone’s ego.
5. Developing foresight.
The ability to predict the future impact of a decision is foresight. Foresight is a critical component for success in all aspects of your life. When you move somewhere, you plan ahead to see what the job outlook is and the safety of a neighborhood. If you are moving a business, it is wise to examine the impact of that decision. Will it be too far for some of your talented employees to drive? Will you lose business because of the change? What will you gain? Every decision should be weighed carefully, with consideration of how the choice affects your bottom line, but also for the people who are working toward success alongside you.
Critical thinking requires the ability to reflect on one’s own beliefs, as well as someone else’s ideas, and then see the connections between those things. It requires the ability to actively listen to others, to assess, dissect and appraise arguments, and to separate intense emotions from the topic at hand.