Critical thinking skills are something that we develop over time through practice and commitment.
In this video, we’ll explore some exercises, activities and strategies to improve your critical thinking skills and ability to be objective.
We receive information all day long from a variety of sources like parents, friends, business associates, the media, and many others – but how do you know whether or not they’re telling the truth? We tend to believe the things that family and friends tell us, and more often than not, we like to believe that others are being honest as well. Unfortunately, everyone has biases and agendas that influence how they interpret and present information; the only way for you to make an informed decision is to exercise critical thinking.Critical thinking is an objective analysis, or consideration of information based on facts, rather than emotions or personal opinions. In a broad sense, critical thinking is about absorbing facts and considering information or subjects from different perspectives in order to be as well-informed as possible.This may seem like an easy or straightforward thing to do, but critical thinking is not an innate skill; rather, it is one that develops throughout different stages of our lives through awareness and practice. Developing strong critical thinking skills is an intentional act that requires commitment and patience, but there are things that you can do to expedite the process.
Exercise: Consider the Objective
When we talk to people or receive information, we tend to believe that people are telling us the truth. This is because we are socially conditioned to assume that people are acting in good faith. Unfortunately, people usually do and say things for a reason, and that might cause them to distort the truth or over-simplify complex information in order to achieve their goals. In these cases, the most important critical thinking skill is to consider the speaker’s objective, or aim or goal.For example, imagine a car salesman in whose lot, you’ve come to shop for a car. From the moment you arrive, he’s friendly and welcoming, answers all of your questions, and goes out of his way to tell you what incredible taste you have in cars.
Now consider the bigger picture: he’s a car salesman whose objective is to sell people cars, and you are a consumer whose objective is to get a good deal on the product that you want. When you consider the larger context (or who, what, when, and why) you’ll gain important insight into an individual’s role in the situation, which allows you to consider his or her possible objectives.
In the previous example, you used your critical thinking skills to determine what the car salesman was really saying and doing while he was talking to you, but there are times when you must think critically about yourself. Regularly practicing a self-evaluation can be an excellent way to build your critical thinking skills and ensure that you are thinking and behaving in a way that is honest and fair.One of the most important elements of critical thinking is the willingness to accept that you could be wrong or could have done something better.
For example, a teacher might spend ten minutes at the end of the day to consider whether he or she provided the class with enough information and accommodated different learning styles and brainstorm possible ways to make lessons more exciting.
Sometimes the way that information is presented can make critical thinking a challenging task. For example, if someone says, ‘Capitalism is the cause of economic inequality,’ this is not a statement that invites questioning. If said with authority, you might have no reason to question it in the first place. What you could do, however, is practice reframing the statement in different ways.Reframing is changing the way that the statement or information is presented, like turning it into a question.
You can do this on your own by making a list of statements and then trying to reframe them in a way that encourages further questions or evidence before you draw a conclusion. For example, you could take our earlier statement about capitalism and reframe it as ‘Is capitalism the cause of economic inequality?’ or ‘In what ways is capitalism responsible for economic inequality?’ Reframing the statement as a question prompts you to think about it differently and hopefully seek information that will fill in some of the gaps.
Activity: Formal Debate
Another classic way to strengthen your skills is through a formal debate. A debate is an activity where two or more people argue on opposite sides of a subject. For example, if the subject is about medicating children with depression, one person would take the ‘for’ position and the other the ‘against’ position. Debates require each side to assemble and review data and evidence, consider varying perspectives, and build a case for why they’re either for or against a position.
Debates are kind of like chess, in that each side needs to have a good strategy and anticipate what the other side will offer for evidence. This means that if you are going to successfully argue your side, you have to consider the big picture and different positions on the issue in order to build a compelling and articulate case.
Critical thinking is the ability to objectively analyze situations and information in order to draw conclusions and make evaluations.
One of the best ways to begin the critical thinking process is to consider the objective (or goal) and motive of the people involved. You can also examine your own beliefs and actions through regular self-evaluations to ensure that you are acting rationally and fairly.Because critical thinking is a skill that is developed over time, you can practice and improve your abilities through certain activities. Practicing reframing, for example, can help you to consider different ways of presenting information that allow for many potential insights and answers. Similarly, participating in a formal debate will help you develop your ability to find credible evidence, consider different perspectives, and present a case that is fact-based and articulate.