Critical Thinking & Politics Don’t Mix

There’s a reason that people say that we should never discuss politics and religion in mixed company.  In my last Action Insights Article, I pointed out that the Republican Party of Texas (RPT) 2012 Platform included a statement that suggested the RPT was against teaching critical thinking in schools.  I included the full “plank” (statement) and then challenged people to think critically about what the RPT was really saying (Hint: they aren’t really saying that they are against teaching critical thinking).

Judging from the responses I received via reply email, on blogs and unsubscribes (YIKES!) it was apparent that some people are more inclined to react to a situation in “fight or flight” mode than to employ critical thinking.  You see, to think critically it is really important that you analyze what is being said in a manner that sets aside those things that put us into fight or flight mode and, instead, maintain a quiet mind.  It is when you have a quiet mind that we are best able to ask the probing questions that allow for effective critical thinking.

Today, when you go into a meeting or read an email where someone recommends a particular course of action that is different than your approach or seems in conflict with your values or just confirms that the offending person is an absolute dolt, take a moment to quiet your mind and ask a few questions:

  • What is the problem that this person is trying to solve?  Do they define the problem the same way I do?  How can I gain agreement on the definition of the problem that needs to be solved?  Agreement on the problem definition is critical.  If you don’t have agreement on the problem that needs to be solved, it is highly unlikely you will ever have agreement on the solution.
  • Why does the problem exist?  In other words, what is causing the problem?  How can I validate the cause of the problem using verifiable facts instead of assumptions and guesses?
  • What other alternatives or ideas exist for addressing this problem?  Will the idea fix the cause of the problem or just a symptom of the problem?  What are all the reasons that the idea I have is superior or inferior to other ideas?
  • What steps do I need to take to gain buy-in or support for implementing the idea? What could go wrong with my preferred approach and how can I reduce the likelihood of something going wrong?

The primary reason that critical thinking is so important to businesses is because it helps us solve problems and make decisions.  The critical thinking questions I outlined above represent the fundamentals of the process of problem solving and decision making.  By thinking about problems incisively and thoroughly we are best equipped to solve them. 

Give the above questions a try the next time you encounter an irritating issue, recommendation or position that is contrary to your own.  Let me know the result.

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