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Eight Habits of Effective Critical Thinkers

Successful executives use critical thinking skills every day, to sift through incomplete and complex information, ask the right questions, recognize strong versus weak arguments, and to assimilate the information they need to make logical business decisions. Today’s rapidly changing business environment allows no time for poor decision making. If not quickly recognized before too much investment is made, a poor decision can hinder a corporation’s chances for success in quarterly results and throw a monkey wrench in the opportunity for timely intervention in fast-moving markets.

Although the consequences of poor critical thinking increase exponentially for higher-level positions in a company, critical thinking is not just the province of executives. Employees at all levels make decisions that affect their level of productivity and the efficient use of resources. When the maintenance mechanic has the critical thinking skills to problem solve effectively, he can get a piece of equipment back in working order more quickly, thereby enhancing productivity. A sales representative with good critical thinking skills will ask the right questions of her customers so she can best meet their specific needs and create successful, long-term relationships.

8 Habits of Stellar Critical Thinkers
The best critical thinkers practice eight particular habits when processing information, solving problems, and reaching decisions:

Habit #1: They are more concerned about getting it right than about being right. They can put aside their egos to recognize that they do not need to have all the answers. They are willing to admit to not knowing something or to making mistakes. They know the importance of asking questions and seeking out the best available information.

Habit #2: They avoid jumping to conclusions and rushing to judgment. They take time to gather as much information as possible to better understand a complex situation before taking action.  They recognize that the consequences of some decisions are more important than others and these decisions require more scrutiny.

Habit #3: They do not accept information at face value. They ask questions to discover what is behind the data. They recognize that it is important not only to confirm that the facts are correct but also to understand that information can be presented in a way designed to support a particular agenda. Similarly, they know to inquire about information that may have been left out because it does not lend support to a particular position.

Habit #4: They avoid over-analysis that leads to paralysis in decision-making. They seek clarity by looking for order or patterns in the data while avoiding the trap of forcing information to fit a particular need. By looking at both the forest (the big picture) and the trees (the details) they have a sense of when they have enough information to make a decision. They know that they will never have all the information they might like but are confident that once they have explored the available information fully and objectively, they will likely make sound decisions.

Habit #5: They are continuous learners and work to stay well-informed. They are inquisitive about a wide range of topics and issues, making a regular effort to read and to educate themselves, gathering information that may be important for making decisions now and in the future.

Habit #6: They show flexibility in their willingness to consider alternative ideas and opinions. They seek to understand the perspective of a potential customer or even a competitor.  This ability to see more than one side of an issue allows them to position their approach more effectively and reflects their confidence in their ability to reason. 

Habit #7: They use critical thinking on themselves. They can explain how they arrived at a conclusion, allowing others to follow their reasoning and understand their thinking. Through self-examination and sensitivity to their own biases, they ask themselves questions such as:  “Do I have all the necessary information? If my conclusions are true, what are the likely implications?” They are willing to change their views when they are provided with more information that allows greater understanding.

Habit #8: They have a distinctive behavioral style. They are confident but not cocky, reflective yet able to take action, and decisive while showing reasonable analysis. They can demonstrate patience when the stakes are high and the issues are not black-and-white. They read more than the average person and communicate their ideas clearly. They can think independently but place value on different perspectives. They accept responsibility when things go wrong and seek to understand what happened so they can learn from their mistakes. 

Critical thinking skills cannot be developed overnight. Nonetheless, practicing these eight habits described here will improve one’s critical thinking ability. As individuals become more successful in using good critical thinking in their everyday decision making, their companies will be more successful in meeting the challenges of continuously changing expectations of customers and markets.

Not only is gaining critical thinking skills individually important but learning how to  work cohesively as a team is important as well. Sign up for our free webcast to learn how to improve team performance by using the Myers Briggs Type Indicator.

About the Author(s)

Stephen L. Guinn, Ph.D. and Gary A. Williamson, Ph.D. Stephen L. Guinn, Ph.D., and Gary A. Williamson, Ph.D., are Managing Partners at PSP Metrics (www.pspmetrics.com), a leading provider of employee selection and development tools throughout the world.