16 Characteristics of Critical Thinkers
You must have heard for the expression “critical thinking” at least once in your lifetime. You must have read it in a newspaper article or heard a friend/neighbor/colleague say: “A friend of mine is an excellent critical thinker!”
Look and listen carefully, and you’ll see that this idea, or a mode of observing and analyzing the world, is given great importance in all facets of both personal and professional life.
If you ever wondered what that means, and what critical thinking is, you came to the right place – this text will try to explain just that.
WHAT IS CRITICAL THINKING?
As important as this mental discipline may be, a singular definition of it does not exist.
According to Peter A. Facione, Ph.D., critical thinking is
“Purposeful, self-regulatory judgment which results in interpretation, analysis, evaluation, and inference, as well as explanation of the evidential, conceptual, methodological, criteriological, or contextual considerations upon which that judgment is based”.
As for dictionaries, Collins dictionary states that critical thinking (or rather the notion of “critical”, to be more precise) stands for
while Meriam-Webster says it is
Essentially, critical thinking is a way of examining the world around us with precision and care, all the while inspecting both the details and the bigger picture, and drawing logical conclusions from presented evidence in an objective and impassionate manner.
When employing the methods of critical thinking, you must do so without including our emotions into the equation so they wouldn’t cloud our judgment. All the conclusions must be inferred by using logic: for every cause, there is a consequence.
And of course, whatever conclusions we may reach must be unbiased – we must not succumb to our prejudices in any way.
Logic, however, is not the only thing important for critical thinking.
Depth, relevance, fairness, credibility, and accuracy of the examined data, their precision and relevance are also of key importance and should be taken into consideration at all times.
Asking questions – logical questions relevant to the topic you’re analyzing – are the proper way of applying this technique.
Through questioning and critical analysis, we reach our conclusions and find ways of improving ourselves and the world around us in a positive and creative way.
Thus, we adapt, and we grow.
WHY IS CRITICAL THINKING IMPORTANT?
Critical thinking and independent thought are of great importance in all facets of our lives, from personal to professional relationships. It gives you the edge necessary to properly examine a situation or a conflict and resolve it accordingly.
It’s a highly desirable skill, especially when it comes to your work.
For example, when presented with a lot of data, having great critical thinking skills will help you differentiate important data from the trivial ones, and that increases your working efficiency and shows your capabilities.
The better your problem-solving skills are, the faster you’ll advance.
A manager with good critical thinking skills can easily determine which one of his employees is suited for which role and is able to utilize the skills of all the individuals in his team to achieve optimal results.
That way, everybody wins.
Critical thinking is crucial for science and politics.
Being critical of social issues and politics is one of the cornerstones of democracy and the advancement of a society depends on it.
As for science, to analyze new data stemming from experimentation, we need to think logically and derive precise conclusions so as to, for example, prove or disprove a specific theory.
Language presentation, personal improvement, and growth, creative problem-solving – critical thinking can be used to the betterment of all aspects of life.
Having all this in mind, we must ask: what are the characteristic of good critical thinkers?
CHARACTERISTICS OF CHRITICAL THINKERS
Now that we know what critical thinking is, and now that we’ve glimpsed the amazing versatility of this way of thinking. Some are universal, while others are pretty particular.
Let us consider some of the characteristics of good critical thinkers.
If you wish to become a good critical thinker, these are the skills you should try to practice and develop.
They include, but are not limited to, the following features:
Observation is one of the general skills we acquire as children and is one of the cornerstones of successful and efficient critical thinking. It is a primary way for us to learn about the world around us, its laws and limitations.
We observe by utilizing our senses of sight, hearing, touch, smell, and taste.
Once we acquire this sensory input, we analyze it and use the data thus received to reach the conclusions which logically follow the question/input.
The older we are, the more experienced we get in regards to observing the details of the world around us and the situations and problems we face.
These observations are what gives us a deeper understanding of the world and people in general, but also about ourselves and our own motivations, which is essential for our personal growth and development.
One of the inherent qualities of all good critical thinkers is their curiosity. Being inquisitive and asking constructing questions in order to learn new things is one of their defining traits.
Critical thinkers take a healthy interest in the world and the people around them, thus becoming good and effective leaders in their respective communities/fields of expertise.
Critical thinkers rarely take anything as it appears – everything and everyone is subjected to their scrutiny, but such a curiosity is not the dry and dispassionate curiosity of a manipulator, put a passionate curiosity of a child eager to understand something or someone new, whether that is a scientific concept or a particular detail of an as yet unfamiliar culture.
This is the trait makes critical thinkers the lifelong learners – a person learns as long as they live, and this perfectly describes all good critical thinkers.
We have already stressed the importance of objectivity.
When critical thinkers approach a problem, they do so without using their emotions. They rely on their ration, on pure facts and scientific evaluation.
They carefully consider the causes and consequences of an action and determine the best possible outcome.
However, being perfectly objective is easier said than done.
Our previous experiences, all that we have seen and heard, is what defy us, so our points of view are sure to influence our judgment.
For that reason, identifying our biases is paramount for successful objective observation.
Consider carefully your previous experiences and cast them aside, then remove yourselves from the situation and absorb both the bigger picture and the minute details as dispassionately as possible.
To be able to identify our own biases, this is how we do it.
Essentially, introspection is our ability to think about the way we think. That is essential for critical thinkers. Through introspection, critical thinkers question themselves and their points of view, and how attentive and engaged they are in observation and analysis of the problem in question.
We don’t simply examine our views – introspection provides us insight both into our mental state and into our emotions as well. Due to its nature, introspection is tied to what is known as self-reflection. Bear in mind, however, that for some of us this anything but easy.
5. Analytical Thinking
When people say for someone that they are an analytical thinker, they are refereeing to that person’s ability to approach a problem with all sides, examine the possible consequences of all possible decisions, and once the best course of action is determined, one then acts accordingly.
Needless to say, the best analytical thinkers out there are actually critical thinkers.
An objective approach to an analysis of any and all information is crucial for this type of thinking, which makes sifting through piles of reports and contracts, or maintaining both personal and business relationships.
When we analyze a piece of information, we essentially break it into smaller pieces, and then we inspect the pieces in order to find out how they work, both individually and when put together.
Objectivity is the key for analytical thinking: we gather all the evidence at our disposal and then follow it to a specific conclusion.
6. Identifying Biases
Whether we are aware of it or not, having biases is inevitable.
These preconceived notions shape our point of view, often in negative ways. In order to identify them and successfully overcome their influence, critical thinkers challenge and question their own attitudes before making a decision, all in order to give a better judgment of a situation and perfect their personal and professional skills.
Once we overcome our biases, we come to a very important realization: all information we receive is incomplete, one way or another.
Imagine getting a report detailing a business transaction, or describing a particular procedure or an event. Never take it for granted! Always ask: “Is there an agenda behind the data presented here? Who benefits and who suffers losses if the given situation is resolved in a particular way? Is there anything my source has left unsaid, and why?”
Asking these questions should help you determine all the hidden issues behind the data presented, and help you reach the decision which brings the best possible outcome.
7. Determining Relevance
Not all data you receive are equally important. When faced with a great number of reports to review, it might seem challenging to successfully sift through all of them efficiently. But in order to do that, you must determine which information is relevant for your needs, and which are not.
Determining the relevance of a particular detail or information is one of the crucial elements of critical thinking.
Bear in mind that a great deal of information you’re presented with has little importance for you and/or your work, or are there to misguide you.
Focus on those pieces of information which are logically connected to the topic you’re researching or a problem you’re trying to solve.
Always check if the information is truly as useful as it appears, or if it’s there to distract you from the real problem.
When tasked to examine a great deal of information (for example, a number of business reports) and determine their legitimacy, you will often receive them disorganized and out of order, especially if they are collected in a hurry, or in a highly stressful situation.
It is up to you to organize and analyze all this raw data, and offer logical and correct conclusions, and this is where inference is important.
Not only are they good at reaching the right conclusions based on more or less raw data, but all good critical thinkers can infer all possible outcomes of taking particular actions based on the conclusions they offered.
They know the difference between inference and assumption, and they rely on actual data, not on preconceived notions of the said data.
Don’t assume, observe the data – with critical thinking, the facts are the only thing that matters.
9. Empathy and Compassion
You may be wondering what compassion and empathy have to do with critical thinking and data analysis.
After all, we have already stated that our judgment must not be led by emotions and that all our conclusions must rational and logical.
As it turns out, however, compassion and empathy are a very important factor.
Having concern for the wellbeing of people around us is what makes us human. We are not robots who can view the word only as a source of cold, soulless scientific data to analyze and store.
In a large number of situations, we must take into consideration the human factor of our decisions, for what we say and do, and the way we resolve conflict can affect people in a number of ways.
Do not allow yourself to become obsessed with blind analysis and pure data.
Always bear in mind that the consequences of your decisions can have serious consequences for some people, so consider your decisions and actions carefully!
That consideration is crucial for all good critical thinkers.
10. Being Humble
One of the great qualities of critical thinkers is the fact that they’re essentially modest and humble folk. It is great having confidence in all your stronger qualities and talents, but humility teaches us to acknowledge our flaws as well.
This is a self-reflection element of critical thinking, the realization that we’re not perfect, that no one is, in fact, infallible, and knowing that should foster eagerness for personal growth, the desire to better oneself for the betterment of others.
We examine our attitude and that which we believe in and become more open to other people’s points of view.
11. Willingness to Question Status Quo
Critical thinkers are never satisfied with the current state of affairs as long as they see even the tiniest bit of a chance to change something for the better. They’ll zealously question current practices in all facets of their lives, especially professional.
They are fine with traditional approaches as long as they’re not the source of stagnation, and will actively look for ways to improve upon it.
Questioning the established order may seem radical, but that is what critical thinkers do: they find new and more effective and creative ways of solving a particular problem, or new ways to approach a particular topic, is their second nature.
12. Having an Open Mind
To be able to see the bigger picture, one needs to have an open mind. That especially counts for critical thinkers. Their goal is always to see the issue/topic in its entirety.
Taking side or getting overly invested into a discussion can be only detrimental to what wish to achieve – a fair and appropriate resolution of conflict and/or solution of a particularly troublesome conundrum.
Listen to all side equally, and carefully consider the information received.
Be open for points of view of other people, and never jump to conclusions!
13. Being Aware of the Most Common Errors in Thinking
To be a good critical thinker, you’ll need to polish your way of thinking and avoid any and all misconceptions.
You do so by becoming aware of what is known as common logical fallacies.
Common logical fallacies are errors occurring while judging a situation, reaching a conclusion, or presenting an argument in a discussion. They include, but are not at all limited to, the following errors:
- Circular reasoning – this logical fallacy refers to using the conclusion of an argument as a support for that very same argument;
- Cognitive shortcut bias – having a favorite way of solving problems is great, but you must never exclude other, more efficient ways if they exist;
- Correlation = causation – this refers to this statement: “If action A and action B happen together at roughly the same time or one after the other, then action A is the cause of action B or vice versa.” As long as there is no clear evidence to provide this assumption, we can consider this statement a logical fallacy.
Creativity is a natural aspect of critical thinking. Many true critical thinkers are also creative thinkers as well.
They refuse to rely solely on established ways of solving a particular issue – if there is an alternative, more creative and effective way of dealing with a particular situation, they would rather use that than the old patterns. They prefer thinking outside of the box; patterns only slow them down.
However, it must be mentioned that critical thinkers and creative thinkers are indeed separated by one specific detail.
Creative thinking is connected to creating new ideas; critical thinking is connected to the analysis of both new and old ideas, and choosing the most effective ones.
Thus, through critical thinking, we can discover new and inventive ideas and bring them to the fore.
15. Highly Developed Communicative Skills
It is often the case that issues with communication stem from the inability of one of the participants of a discussion (or all of them!) to observe the issue in question from a distance, with a calm and clear mind.
This clarity of thought is one of the building blocks of effective communication.
Since coherence is important for communication, we can rely upon critical thinking to relay our messages.
Critical thinkers pay close attention to the thinking process of their interlocutors and observe just how logical or illogical, biased or unbiased their reasoning may be.
They’re able to systematically and coherently express their opinions, but also to absorb and understand the attitudes of the people around them.
16. Attentive Listeners
Critical thinkers are everything but passive conversationalists. They do listen carefully to what other people are saying in order to absorb as many important pieces of information as possible, but they’re also asking creative and constructive questions in order to find out more.
As we have stated, asking the right questions is important for all good critical thinkers.
This is the way they differentiate important details from the trivial ones, picking out the facts while discarding all assumptions.
Once all the facts are gathered, they reach a logical conclusion based upon it. Asking open-ended questions to examine a topic more deeply is a specialty of theirs.
These are some of the essential skills necessary for you to become a successful critical thinker.
The best thing about critical thinking is the absolute versatility of this way of thinking. It can be applied in any and all segments of your personal and professional life, and it simply has no downsides to it.
Question the given norms, actively find the way to improve upon both yourselves and the world around you, and don’t accept things simply because someone told you they’ve always been like this.
Ask constructive questions, identify your biases, and try to be as objective as you can, but do not forget the people around you – your colleagues, friends, and family – and turn into a cold, cynical person unable to trust anyone and anything.
Consider your beliefs and actions as well as those of others, and you will constantly grow, both as a professional and as a person.
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