Article by Sam Milam
By adopting critical thinking skills, you can improve your ability to make objective, effective choices and arguments. Without these skills, your arguments can often be one-sided. Criticism can feel like a personal attack on your character rather than an opportunity to open up dialogue and communicate productively.
Let’s take a look at how to develop critical thinking skills so that you can walk into any situation with the tools needed to set intense emotions aside and make smart decisions:
1. Become a Self-Critic
The very first and most important step in developing critical thinking skills is becoming a critic of your own thoughts and actions. Without self-reflection, you cannot grow.
You can break down your own thoughts by asking yourself why you believe something. When you do this, you need to clarify your thoughts by assessing your response objectively and finding a solid logic supporting what you believe. When you self-reflect, you are able to step back and observe how you respond to situations.
Important questions to ask during self-reflection include: Why do I believe this? Can I think of examples in my life when this proved true or false? Am I attached to this idea emotionally? Why?
Another aspect of becoming a self-critic is acknowledging your strengths, weaknesses, personal preferences, and biases. When you know this information, you can understand why you approach certain situations with certain perspectives. When you are aware of your viewpoint, you can step beyond it when necessary.
2. Listen Actively
Thinking and listening are nearly impossible to do at the same time. To become a critical thinker, you need to be able to listen to others’ ideas, arguments, and criticisms without thinking about your response while they are speaking. You can’t properly absorb the information someone is trying to convey if you don’t take the time to truly listen.
Listening allows you to feel empathy. When you hear someone else’s perspective, you can understand their stories, their struggles, their passions, and their ideas. Actively listening allows you to understand what someone is trying to tell you because it pushes the conversation until all parties can reiterate what the other is trying to say.
3. Analyze Information
No one thinks critically at all times. Sometimes your joy, anger, sadness, or other emotions are too great. Other times, you struggle to focus on the central issue at hand.
Critical thinking requires you to carefully analyze the information before you, whether it is information in your mind or information shared by others. To analyze information, first assess what is being said and ensure you clearly understand it. Then, you can dissect and appraise all arguments, including your own.
4. Communicate Nonviolently
Critical thinking isn’t much help if you can’t communicate in a nonviolent, productive way. When listening to and analyzing arguments, you first need to recognize valid logic. Then, you need to communicate with the other people involved in a productive way.
The basis of nonviolent communication is compassion, observation, and collaboration. When you approach a scenario with compassion, you approach with a peaceful mindset rather than a defensive one. When you observe, you can observe your arguments and others’ without judgment or emotional attachment. Collaboration naturally happens when everyone enters the process with a compassionate, open mind focused on solving the problem at hand.
5. Develop Foresight
Foresight is the ability to predict the future impact of a decision, which is critical for success in all aspects of your life. For example, when you move somewhere, you plan ahead to see what your job outlook is and what the neighborhood is like.
Similarly, if you are moving a business, it is wise to examine the impact of that decision. Will it be too far for some of your talented employees to commute? Will you lose customers? What will you gain?
Every decision should be weighed carefully, its potential impacts considered closely, before it is made.
A version of this article originally appeared on SUCCESS.com.
Sam Milam is a freelance writer hailing from the Pacific Northwest. Her focus is on discovering passions, developing skill sets, and honing the best, most productive versions of ourselves. She loves to travel, meet new people, and do yoga.