One of the things that has really improved my professional life is my learned ability to think critically. It has elevated me to higher positions with organizations and has put me in demand with a number of companies and entrepreneurs. People will ask me to consult on their ideas and plans because I can find the assumptions and leaps where they are missing real data.
Critical thinking, in general, starts with asking ‘how do I know?’ – How do I know the information or claims I’m presented with are true? How do I know my process for assessing the truth of claims is adequate and appropriate? How do I know there is not some better, or even simpler, explanation? How do I know that the source of my information is honest, reliable, and thorough?…
When there is no reasonable answer for ‘how do I know?’, then we have an assumption.
In business, assumptions are only meant to be place holders until actual data can replace them. When they are left in a business plan unchallenged, they can spell disaster for a product or for a company. When people invest, or, they abandon, ideas, products, and opportunities because of assumptions, it is almost always a mistake.
Here’s the strange thing- I know sooo MANY people in the world of business who are great at applying critical thinking skills to their work, but somehow forget about critical thinking in their personal lives.
Some of these people can locate and investigate assumptions that most wouldn’t see. Thinking critically about information they are presented with every day guides their decision making, keeping them from missing opportunities, or being suckered by inadequate research or overly optimistic analyses.
Yet, in their interactions with others, and their assessments of other people’s behavior, these same people seem to engage in magical thinking, mind-reading, and all manner of generalizations and jumping to conclusions.
I can’t understand it.
In my life, critical thinking has spilled over into my personal relationships and it has enriched them beyond measure. Whenever I find myself making a judgment of someone else, I am stopped in my tracks by the question ‘how do I know?’- How do I know I have all the facts about them? How do I am perceiving the things in the right light? How do I know they’re not just having a bad day? Etc, etc…
Now whenever gossip comes my way, I point out that I don’t know what the truth is. I couldn’t possibly know all the facts, or even know if and when I did have all the facts. I may even venture to say that we don’t know all the facts to the person I’m talking with. We don’t know what the future holds in store for a person’s life, where they’re coming from, or how they may grow and evolve… we don’t even know if they need to do any changing.
Truly, the only way we can know something about another person- their motives, their feelings, thoughts, or intentions- is to ask them.
Critical thinking stops me from judging and gossiping, and forces me to engage others in my life, and empower them to be the person they want to be with me, rather than the person I project onto them. When critical thinking is absent in interactions, I notice that talk about others, or the things I say to other people, are replete with assumptions…
You know what they say about assumptions, so ask yourself ‘how do I know?’ next time you find yourself making a judgment of someone else, or engaging in gossip.