IMPROVING YOUR CRITICAL THINKING SKILLS
The ability to think critically does not just happen- it’s a learned skill. With endless amounts of information in the world, there is always more to learn. Although the development of critical thinking skills can take time, there are certain practices that can help to advance your knowledge, attitudes, and skills. With practice, as well as powerful changes to your cognition, you can improve your ability to analyze information and ultimately make the best decisions for your life. Below is our Quick Guide to improving your critical thinking skills.
PRACTICE ACTIVE LISTENING
Being a strong active listener is fundamental for successful communication and advancing your critical thinking skills. Active listening involves making a conscious effort to listen attentively and process the information that is being offered. This includes noticing both verbal and nonverbal indications that would be needed for creating a solution. With good active listening skills, the listener should be able to understand the context, make logical connections, as well as be able to restate what was being said by the speaker. The listener should not be formulating their rebuttal or responses to the speaker or thinking about something that is completely unrelated.
Active listening will help to:
- Avoid missing any important information that is beneficial for drawing conclusions.
- Reduce conflict and misunderstandings.
- Build trust and connections with others.
- Further one’s critical thinking skills.
When it comes to exceptional critical thinking, the key is exceptional questioning. Asking the right questions will lead to new insights, innovation, and breakthroughs. In order to formulate great questions, it’s important to slow down, listen, and truly reflect on what is being analyzed. Critical thinkers ask questions on topics that they are not familiar with, as well as when they are seeking to confirm their knowledge. Questions can spark significant changes throughout your life. They are not only great for learning new information about a topic, but they will also inspire new ways of thinking. Critical thinkers should never abandon the questioning process.
BREAK DOWN THE PROBLEMS
At a first glance, big problems can often become overwhelming. An analytical approach to problem-solving will help to eliminate feelings of overwhelm or stress and improve your ability to think critically. The key is to recognize that big problems are simply a collection of smaller problems. When you invest your time in breaking down your problems into smaller pieces, these problems will become easier to digest and solve, generating ideas for solving the bigger problem. Start by asking questions, such as “What smaller issues might be driving this big problem?”, or “What is the problem composed of?” A complex problem instantly becomes an easier one to solve. Solutions will begin to emerge, leading you closer to the final problem-solving stage.
BE MINDFUL OF EMOTIONS
Emotions play a crucial role in the critical thinking process. They enable critical thinkers to process information efficiently with an open mind, as well as encourage motivation. However, it is important to be mindful of emotions with decision-making, as emotions can sometimes cloud our judgment. Emotions should not be ignored altogether when thinking critically, but rather managed and channeled in productive ways. Ultimately, your success in any situation will result from how you control your emotions. Emotional intelligence is identified as the ability to assess and control the emotions of oneself, others, and even groups. It’s about being heart smart, as opposed to book smart. For instance, professionals need empathy when working with others regardless of their occupation in order to vicariously experience what others feel, believe, or wish.
THINK FOR YOURSELF
Sometimes the most powerful tool you have is your ability to think for yourself. Critical thinking is a self-disciplined, and self-guided form of thinking. After you’ve read books, articles, or blogs, and listened to the advice of others, take some time to reflect on what you think about the situation. Your personal experiences are not to be dismissed altogether in decision-making and problem-solving. We all have a lot to offer, so consider your own thoughts and feelings when deciding which path to choose, or which solution to a problem is best for you.
Although it’s impossible to make a perfect decision for all of our life decisions, there are ways to improve our chances of making the best choices. Critical thinking is a soft skill that can evolve in many ways. A lack of metacognition, or ‘thinking about thinking, can lead some people to feel overconfident. Some leaders have learned to succeed under pressure, but may become complacent in their successes and neglect to take advantage of an opportunity to improve their critical thinking skills. Thoughts become critical when you are aware of them. Exceptional critical thinking skills will develop from practicing habits that are designed for success in accordance with your goals.
An effective way to be organized with thoughts and explore connections between ideas is to use mind maps or logic trees. Mind maps can foster the organization of information in a logical structure that is essential for successful critical thinking. By using visual diagrams, the learner is able to map out their thoughts, explore new connections in a more visible way, and analyze choices to form decisions. With this logical structure, it is easier to integrate new ideas into your thinking process. Mind mapping allows the thinker to have greater clarity with their thoughts in light of the bigger picture or objective.
It is best to capture your ideas in a mapping format that is understandable to you. Consider beginning with a central theme and expanding your thoughts from there. The central theme can branch off to other connected topics that you wish to explore, in which these topics may be branched as words, images, or phrases. Mind maps create a clear, organizational structure that can guide you through your critical thinking process.
KEEP AN OPEN MIND
An essential aspect of critical thinking is the ability to open your mind to new insights and possibilities. Open-mindedness is the virtue by which we learn. In particular, being open-minded means taking into account relevant evidence or arguments to revise a current understanding. It involves being critically open to alternatives, with the possibility of changing your personal view. When we allow ourselves to be open-minded, we can discover new information about ourselves that challenges our current values and beliefs. The key to being open-minded is to not allow pre-conceived notions to constrain or inhibit reflection on newly presented information. It’s important to avoid becoming defensive when our ideas are being challenged, but rather allow new ideas to give us fresh insight on the world around us.
Learning and improving any life skills is possible with practice. A critical thinker can improve by finding ways to get involved and participate in exercises or dilemmas that will expand their line of reasoning. In a workplace setting, actively volunteer to help with specific work-related problems, or newly emerging issues- this will help to bring out your creative side and offer you the support you will need to develop those very necessary skills. If there is a lack of opportunities available, consider introducing team building exercises that are aimed at getting the group involved with exploring logic and reason. Surrounding yourself with keen critical thinkers exposes you to more sources of perspective and shared knowledge of great ideas.
Are you ready to set your trainees up for success with these skills? Download our newly updated Critical Thinking Workshop today!