Skillsoft Blog

KnowledgeBoosters: Critical Thinking Essentials – What Is Critical Thinking?

By Russ Howard

Several months ago, we introduced our series of KnowledgeBoosters.  These posts are skills development tips and techniques delivered in “quick hit” fashion – we know you’re busy so we want to keep them short but useful!  Each one also includes reference to a relevant course from our e-learning courseware collection, a book and an online article on the topic to allow you to learn more.

This KnowledgeBooster is on critical thinking.

Defining critical thinking

Critical thinking is an intellectual, methodical, and disciplined method of interpreting and evaluating information about any subject, content, problem, or issue. It results in well-reasoned judgments and decisions about what to think, believe, or do. Users of this approach need to be willing to question information and beliefs, and to adapt their thoughts, positions, or beliefs based on what they discover. Conscious effort is made to ensure the reasoning process is free of unreasoned assumptions, biases, or prejudice. Emphasis is also placed on making sure information is reliable, relevant, clear, and accurate, and that the interpretation of that information is logical, objective, reasonable, and fair.

Guiding elements of critical thinking

The interrelated elements of the critical thinking process include:

  • Purpose – The purpose of all thinking is to resolve an issue or answer a question
  • Information – Facts, data, evidence, and experiences gathered and used
  • Predispositions – Thoughts or opinions already formed about a subject; generally include assumptions, beliefs, and points of view
  • Framing concepts – Existing theories, laws, principles, or models that need to be used to interpret the information accurately and truly understand the question or issue
  • Inferences – Interpretations or conclusions reached through the reasoning process
  • Implications – What is learned from the reasoned analysis

Describing a critical thinker

Critical thinkers tend to do certain things when reviewing information:

  • Promote curiosity by asking pertinent questions and pointing out problems others may fail to see
  • Clearly formulate questions and problems so focus remains on the issue
  • Come to well-reasoned conclusions
  • Encourage objectivity by striving to leave emotions and social pressure out of their evaluations
  • Use healthy skepticism to address doubt and suspend judgment while searching for the truth
  • Assess the relevance of information to the problem or question being addressed and eliminate any information that may not be helpful
  • Think open-mindedly about information by identifying and eliminating predispositions and false assumptions, while considering the inferences and implications of what’s learned

Obstacles to critical thinking

Some approaches to information create obstacles to good critical thinking:

  • Arrogance presupposes an egocentric point of view, which tends to be biased towards the person’s existing beliefs.
  • Unwillingness to listen and engage in the reasoning process can result when the ideas, beliefs, or viewpoints being analyzed counter those held by an individual.
  • Lack of respect for reason could negatively impact the ability to think critically.
  • Intellectual laziness can inhibit the effectiveness of critical thinking.
  • Black and white thinking refers to the tendency to think in terms of absolutes, such as right and wrong or true and false.

Thinking critically at work

Critical thinking skills can help you make good decisions at work, but you need to be alert to how you’re thinking. Often, if left unchecked, thoughts can easily be prejudiced, biased, or distorted, or be based on partial truths or misunderstandings. All of these things sabotage critical thinking.

When you develop critical thinking skills, you’ll have the key qualities that organizations look for in employees. Typically, organizations seek people who are able to quickly and accurately analyze and interpret relevant business information. And they want people who are flexible. As employees move into new positions, they must be able to independently make sound judgments and good decisions.

Aside from increasing your desirability as an employee, critical thinking provides some other benefits in the workplace. It can make you a better problem solver and judge of the quality of information, a more dynamic contributor, and a more effective communicator.

Course: Critical Thinking Essentials: What Is Critical Thinking? (pd_14_a01_bs_enus)

Book: Critical Thinking


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