A deceptively challenging topic, many people believe that they have a natural grasp of Critical Thinking, but of course, having an awareness of something and acting upon them are very different things. It’s not enough to simply be critical, but we also have to have a sense of mindfulness that is not easily accomplished.

Who are we addressing? Where? Why? These are just the start. To what extent is it practical to probe further? What is a useful response to that particular piece of information?

Having an acute awareness of the present a non-judgemental attitude is a talent that I would love to see more of, and one we cultivate fervently in our academies.

One of our graduates, Phill Moore, has been exploring the basis of critical thinking and is endeavouring to apply it actively apply it to his life, augmenting his already substantial skill set. We all fall short of consistent critical thinking, but being truthful to yourself and allowing yourself to acknowledge weaknesses is a great place to start bettering ourselves. It only makes you, and your company, stronger.

— Lee Boot — Sparta Global Academy Trainer

Critical Thinking

A definition taken from the Critical Thinking community:

Phillip Moore
“a self-guided and self-disciplined way of thinking which attempts to apply reasoning to the highest level of quality in a fair-minded way.”

Humans as “thinking” creatures are powerful in our ability to reason, however, if we do not actively ask ourselves ‘what do I know, what do I believe and what do I think of this’ our train of thought can become biased, distorted, uninformed or prejudiced. We allow ourselves to easily be swayed by others words or actions all too easily. We do this because it is easy.

Our quality of life or the actions we take can be subject to the quality of our thought.

Low quality of thought can be costly in all areas of life, a downward spiral reflecting on you professionally and personally; excellence of thought must be cultivated, worked on and promoted — It is the harder path of the two, but is fulfilling in every facet of life.

Let’s have a look at some of the benefits that someone with a good level of critical thinking skills may have:

· The ability to determine the relevance and importance of ideas

· Understanding links between ideas and combining them

· The ability to recognise and build arguments for or against for a beneficial resolution

· Identifying logical errors

· Approach problems in a systematic way

· Feel confident enough to reflect on their own beliefs and values

Using critical thinking techniques it is possible to break down even the most complex of situations and then attempt to find the best possible solution to the issue at hand. There are numerous ways to achieve the abilities in the list above.

“I cannot teach anybody anything, I can only make them think” — Socrates.

Socratic Teaching

There are many ways to teach critical thinking and one of the most powerful is named Socratic Teaching. This method focuses on giving more questions rather than answers and these encourage an individual to inquire more about any situation which can lead to a greater understanding about mostly anything.

A skilled Socratic thinker should be able to keep discussions focused and intelligent while keeping those participating stimulated by asking probing questions. It is also useful to draw as many people into the discussion (Or if in a business environment, pulling as many relevant people into the discussion) while keeping on top of aspects that may not have been covered to prevent losing sight of the main focus. This is a great standard for facilitators within the business environment, a good facilitator will make you think.

Beginning Critical Thinking

Critical thinking may not be something that a person can just instantly perform; it can be difficult to get into the motions and keep in a mind-set to do it autonomously, however it is simple to start analysing your own interactions with people and trying to use open questions to prompt more dialogue.

Try simply drawing out more information about a topic using questions such as:

· Who said it?

· What exactly did they say?

· Where did they say it

· How did they say it?

It is here that is it possible to try and gauge the severity of a situation by the tone of their voice, whether they told you information in public or in private and more importantly why they said it, timing can be an important factor to consider. The context within which something is said can vastly change your understanding.

Alternate Strategies

There are more ways to learn how to think in a critical manner, the website criticalthinking.org outlines nine ways in which a person can improve their thought process in which we’ll outline the first four with a short description:

Utilizing Wasted Time — While everyone enjoys wasting time, whether it be playing sports, watching TV, getting drunk with our friends it could be pertinent to take some time to evaluate something of import within your life. This could range from our time spent at work, to how our team performed at the local five-aside game of football. How do you assess these things? Do you look at it from all angles?

A Problem a Day — One a day, don’t burden yourself with all of your problems at once (it’s not like they’re going away on their own, they’ll still be there tomorrow…). Take the time to select a problem you may have, identify how the problem affects you and how to relate it to your own goals and needs. Then from here you can begin to identify what you need to do in order to resolve the problem

Internalise Intellectual Standards — These are ways you can improve your communication to others, covering different aspects such as; clarity, precision, accuracy, relevance and significance allows you to get to the point quicker, keeping on topic and arguably the most important, keeping what you’re saying clear to a level that there is very little room for misinterpretation.

Keep a Journal — Logging down situations you've encountered and how you reacted to them and more importantly analyse how you dealt with it, trying to discover any underlying tones to the reaction. From here you can assess the implications and see if you would do something differently if you encounter the situation again. This will also help you in interview situations, the interviewer often dissects your answers to questions they have posed and if you show plenty of forethought they will identify that you have strong critical thinking skills.

Conclusion

Performing any of these while in the workplace can be extremely beneficial, by asking the right questions and spending time looking into the right problems you will gain better information and resolve issues others may not have seen.

This can help you with creating different approaches to situations and being more creative with solutions while saving time. This ultimately allows a person to make more informed decisions through reasoning and not instinct which will lead more efficient problem solving.

Phillip Moore — Sparta Consultant.