5 Barriers to Critical Thinking (and how to challenge them!)

Critical thinking is a valuable and transferable workplace skill for the 21st Century – but developing this skill is a life-long journey. Although critical thinking is a cognitive ability it is linked to behaviour; by changing and modifying this we can develop elements of  how we evaluate information and make decisions. But there can be some key barriers which affect our ability to think critically – here’s five key areas to be aware of and how to challenge them.

  1. Misunderstanding – There is often some confusion or curiosity about what critical thinking involves – such as the assumption that critical thinking is about being negative rather than making informed decisions. Misunderstandings may arise due to a lack of information about processes, differences in approach and ideas.
    • Remember when asked to think critically you need to look at a situation logically, from multiple perspectives; while separating facts from opinions, prejudices, intuition and assumptions!
  2. Unwillingness to critique/ reach objectivity – Critical thinking ability requires individuals to challenge and question how they think about a problem, project or innovation; there is a need to move beyond what you may be comfortable with.
    • Be brave. Stop the process if needed, or pass the idea between teams for review. In order to train yourself to think critically you need to have the desire, motivation and willpower to improve it.
  3. Insufficient knowledge – Good critical thinkers do not need to change their values, but they should be prepared to consider and evaluate issues objectively.
    • Read around the subject. Be prepared to question where your data comes from. Is it reliable and trustworthy? Fact check!
  4. Unnecessary assumptions – Assumptions are thoughts that are accepted as true without any proof. The problem with assumptions is that:
    • They are often illogical.
    • They may not be supported by hard facts or data.
    • They may be based on previous, often very limited, experience, ignorance or confirm our biases and stereotypes about a race, gender or groups of people.
    • Check your assumptions regularly and be prepared to make changes based on the information that comes to light.
  5. Personal bias and emotions – Common barriers include confirmation bias (where we seek only information to support our views) or allowing emotions to get in the way of objective evaluation.
    • Check your emotions and question your ideas. Would the outcome to your problem be different if you put your emotions to one side? 

Remember “No problem can withstand the assault of sustained thinking.” Voltaire

Next Steps: Visit our Critical thinking hub to see other ways to develop your critical thinking! 

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