By AMA Staff
What Does It Mean to be a Critical Thinker?Critical thinking is a way of looking at things to find the truth in a situation, based on evidence, observation, and logic, versus what we infer or assume. It involves the ability to view a situation from different perspectives in order to formulate the best possible course of action. Applying these principles can help you come up with better decisions, with greater confidence, when you face everyday workplace challenges.
John Dewey is considered the “father” of modern critical thinking. His definition of critical thinking is as follows:
“Active, persistent, and careful consideration of a belief or supposed form of knowledge in the light of grounds which support it and further conclusions to which it tends.” Although his words date from 1909, the need for a logical approach to decision making continues today.
A Critical Thinker:
- Questions things
- Doesn’t draw conclusions too quickly
- Examines arguments for and against an issue
- Distinguishes fact from opinion
- Recognizes other people’s agendas
- Explores multiple perspectives
- Adjusts assumptions in light of facts
- Is aware of his own thought processes
What steps can you take to become a critical thinker?
- Recognize Assumptions: We all make assumptions, often without knowing it. Try to distinguish what is fact from what is opinion, consider what assumptions are relevant to your situation, and seek alternative viewpoints.
- Evaluate Arguments: Look critically at assertions and evaluate them objectively and accurately. People will present you with arguments to convince you to believe or act in a particular way. To help you evaluate the validity of their arguments, watch out for persuasion tactics and for your own tendency to favor something because of your own personal bias. And keep an eye out for strong emotions—these can get in the way of seeing an argument accurately.
- Draw Conclusions: Conclusions are positions that are derived based on information or belief. Use all available evidence to arrive at logical conclusions.
Critical Thinking Tools:
- Recognizing Assumptions: How to Distinguish Fact from Opinion
Point to specific, credible, information to substantiate why something is true or can logically be concluded to be true, based on data.
- The following assumption is an OPINION: If we raise our price, our best customers will stop buying our product.
- The following assumption is a FACT: If we raise our price by $5, market research conducted earlier this year projects that sales to our Tier 1 customers will decrease by 10%.
- Evaluating Arguments
Use questions to determine if someone has evidence to support his/her position. Ask open-ended questions to determine if there are facts, evidence, or experience to back up an opinion. Consider the extent to which this information is logical, credible, and relevant in your situation. Strongly stated, authoritative statements can be misinterpreted as fact rather than opinion.
—What is the basis for your opinion?
—What evidence do you have to support it?
—Why do you believe the information is accurate?
—Why do you think this would apply to this problem?
Assess the Situation
Critically evaluate the information available to you and decide on a course of action.
—How urgent is this situation?
—How much time do I have to come up with a solution?
—Who is affected by this situation and what are their concerns or agendas?
—What resources do I have to work with?
- Drawing Conclusions
The best conclusions are logically based on sufficient, accurate information.
—What assumptions am I (and others) making?
—How much can I trust these assumptions?
—What arguments are people making that they want me to accept? How valid are these arguments?
—What conclusions can I draw from the information I’ve evaluated?
—What is the best course of action?
Plan your course of action, implement it, and make mid-course corrections as needed.
—What is my action plan?
—How will I introduce the plan to others?
—How well is the plan working?
—What adjustments do I need to make?
Adapted from AMA’s seminar Critical Thinking.
© 2010 American Management Association. All Rights Reserved.
About the Author(s)
AMA Staff American Management Association is a world leader in professional development, advancing the skills of individuals to drive business success. AMA’s approach to improving performance combines experiential learning—“learning through doing”—with opportunities for ongoing professional growth at every step of one’s career journey. AMA supports the goals of individuals and organizations through a complete range of products and services, including seminars, Webcasts and podcasts, conferences, corporate and government solutions, business books and research.