Critical thinking is utilizing our higher faculties to understand and evaluate subject matter. Or to put it simply it’s knowing how to think. When we were in school, we were taught what to think. We were subjected to a lot of information and taught how to pass tests. We’d memorize what was needed, take the test and then forget most of what we “learned.”
Consider this conclusion from the National Commission on Excellence in Education in its landmark report, A Nation at Risk, 1983:
“Many 17-year-olds do not possess the ‘higher-order’ intellectual skills we should expect of them. Nearly 40 percent cannot draw inferences from written material; only one-fifth can write a persuasive essay; and only one-third can solve a mathematics problem requiring several steps.”
This education trend has taught us to just mind-dump everything we know when sharing information as well. When conducting training or presenting to fellow doctors or associates, take a moment and evaluate your approach. Are you unintentionally mind-dumping everything you know in your allotted time, or are you taking the time to help others to think and develop conclusions?
Critical thinking is a higher-order level of thinking. It is the ability to think for oneself and responsibly make those decisions that affect one’s life. Critical thinking is also critical inquiry: investigating problems, asking questions and posing new challenging answers.
Consider the benefits of helping develop others’ critical-thinking skills. They will be able to better understand your ideas and accept your methodologies if they are able to understand, evaluate and conclude in a critical way. Furthermore, by developing your own critical-thinking skills, you will be better equipped to share your values and beliefs with your staff and provide better quality care for your patients.
When it comes to developing your patient care team, critical thinking requires advanced listening skills. Lecturing to or speaking at others is a passive activity that does not take into account the needs of the people listening. To critically evaluate needs, it is necessary to present ideas and then allow others to develop conclusions — openly discuss and debate these new ideas. Allow team members to think deeply about your ideas and, in turn, value what they think and feel. Share these ideas in an environment that allows them to think their ideas matter. Ask them to make connections and recognize patterns in the new ideas you are presenting. These techniques allow your team to begin to develop trust in themselves and their thoughts, which, in turn, develops their critical skills to provide better care for patients.
At the conclusion of your discussion, to further develop critical thought, ask the team members to write out the most significant thing they learned and what single thing they would like to learn more about. This is immediate feedback about what they are learning and what they still need to understand. When presenting, encourage questions and praise the questioner with these examples: “Good question,” or “I am sure others want to know that as well.” When your audience asks questions, this is a great indicator that they are thinking critically.
If you’re going to think anyway, you might as well be an effective critical thinker.
This article originally appeared in the November 2016 edition of INVISION.