The unexamined life is not worth living — this was a key Socratic principle. It’s important that we critique, analyse and improve the quality of our thinking which naturally boosts the quality of our decisions. There are different types of thinking, however. What we are going to examine is critical thinking.
So what is critical thinking?
It’s a type of reasonable, reflective thinking that is aimed at deciding what to believe or what to do, a way of deciding whether a claim is always true, partly true or false.
To become a critical thinker, you must develop these skills:
Recognise assumptions you carry with you. Have you ever wondered why you believe the things that you believe? Do you believe things because you’ve been told to believe them? Step outside your own beliefs to observe from a neutral viewpoint. Be aware of assumptions and learn to self-reflect. We all have our filters through which we view the world, so, challenge biases and prejudices, ask questions and look for evidence before coming to conclusions.
Process information honestly. People sometimes pass along information that is not really true. Thanks to Whatsapp and Facebook we have been circulating posts that make outrageous claims without any veracity.
Recognise a generalisation. “All success is brought about by good luck”, “The customer is always right”, “Old people are wise.” These are all generalisations; are they always true? Not necessarily. One can always confront these statements and reinvent them based on new evidence.
Evaluate old information and new ideas. There was a time when doctors thought leeches could cure us. The belief was that the infection was in the blood, so take out the infected blood and the person gets cured. Thankfully, this paradigm was disputed and challenged by some Doctor.
Analyse a problem and recognise the complex parts. A mechanic must understand how an entire engine works before he can diagnose a problem. Sometimes, it is necessary to deconstruct an engine to figure out the parts that are not working. This is how you approach big problems — break them down into smaller parts and carefully deliberate over them.
Use precise vocabulary and communicate with clarity. The truth can be blurred by fuzzy language. Develop your vocabulary so you can communicate precisely and accurately.
Manage emotions in response to a situation or problem. Don’t be fooled by rabble-rousing emotional speeches. Stay rational and keep your emotions in check as you get new information.
R A Nadesan is an executive coach, behavioural and soft skills trainer with a pan India presence. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org