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Building Critical Thinking Skills to Enhance Employee Comprehension and Decision Making

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problemsolving1

In employee led groups or in an individual context, individuals can begin to take over the responsibility of using questions to help foster a deeper understanding of material, information, key concepts or issues.

Through the use of questioning, employees engage in a social process that is fundamental to learning. Individual learning and self-development begin on the social plane, through interactions where employees think and respond with others who possess varied levels of knowledge. Employees should take an active role in exploring, finding and researching answers to their own questions.

Through self-inquiry based questioning, individuals develop questions that need to be answered and then research the answers to support their thinking and responses. Inquiry is not always a specific question, but can be simply a contemplation about something that needs to be investigated further. There is usually not one correct answer to meaningful questions of inquiry, but through the process, employees actually gain understanding, generate more questions to ponder, and find further issues to research. This technique helps provide a structure for looking through information and sorting out relevant from irrelevant facts, sources and data.

Within the process, it is important to eliminate incorrect information, confirm reliable information, and ask further questions about the meanings and implications of certain words and phrases. After the discussion, they review and confirm the accuracy of summarizations and understandings.

Questions have the ability to buttress comprehension. Their intended use is to make the sharing of new information a collaborative process, with shared responsibilities for ongoing discussions and conversations as well as problem solving outcomes.

Within the questioning process, it is essential for employees to invite questions that effectively probe for understanding. One effective method is to apply “why” types of questions that tend to redirect an individual’s attention. An example is, “Why are you sure that when you say ____ will happen, it will?” It is also important for employees to ask questions that model comprehension monitoring, “Does (this) or (that) make any sense to you?”

POSSE Questioning

POSSE questioning is an effective framework to guide employees to facilitate better comprehension, particularly when solving problems. POSSE stands for:

  • Predict (predict what will happen as a result of the problem);
  • Organize (organize knowledge and ideas into categories and details);
  • Search (read to identify key ideas and details of problem-related parts);
  • Summarize (identifying the main problem rather than its symptoms);
  • Evaluate (ask a question, compare, clarify and predict).

Within the POSSE framework, questioning tends to be embedded in the Predicting, Searching, and Evaluating stages of problem solving and is structured in a “Shared Inquiry Discussion” format that is designed to promote creative, thoughtful and critical thinking. As such, the leader continues to play a key role in the inquiry process. Within this framework, however, he or she avoids asking employees’ questions that tend to cause them to speculate about something that is outside immediate, contextual boundaries. He or she also avoids questions that tend to require making predictions about something.

Applying the POSSE Framework to Make Questioning Visible

How can employees become proficient in using questions effectively in their own problem solving/work-related situations? There are two major challenges associated with this question. First, while widely existing in any workplace, questions are so common that employees tend to simply take the process for granted, rather than analyzing how the process of questioning works. Which is, how questions are formed, the purposes they serve and the information sources they probe. Second, even when the questioning process is discussed and detailed to make it “visible,” employees still need opportunities to engage in active questioning practices themselves. The goal of the questioning process should be to increase and enhance proficiency in seeking out information and to generate higher levels of insight and understanding.

There are specific ways in which to practice the skill of questioning for reaching this goal:

Think Aloud Sessions

A “Think Aloud Session” is one way to make a relatively common or invisible process like questioning to identify important information more visible by allowing employees to share insights, reasoning and perceptions through the art of inquiry and the language of questioning to generate positive results. When a leader applies Think Aloud Sessions, they should model or demonstrate “Questioning Use Strategies,” and the vocabulary of “Question-Answer Relationships” (see below).

Creating Question-Answer Relationships (QAR)

A Question-Answer Relationship is an effective questioning strategy, which emphasizes that a relationship exists between certain questions asked, the material presented, and the background of the responders. In this strategy, employees need to rely on four question/answer relationships or descriptors to find the information they need in order to effectively answer the question(s) being asked.

Question-Answer Relationships help employees and the leader develop a shared, common language for discussing and understanding how particular questions are designed to function. The leader may need to introduce QAR and to explain the four types of question/answer relationships that it encompasses:

Consider and Explore – The answer exists, but employees need to put together different pieces of information to obtain it. This is the most common QAR.

Right Here – The answer resides within the question and is usually easy to comprehend. The information is found without much effort.

Question Asker and Me – The answer is not explicitly stated. Employees need to think about what they already know, what the leader tells them, and how both pieces of information fit together in a meaningful way.

On Your Own – The answer is not physically given or implied. Employees should be able to answer the question without reading or researching information, simply by using their own experiences and background knowledge.

QAR Brings Together Knowledge and Information

This is information and knowledge that employees need to draw upon in order to answer particular questions, through various inquiry strategies. For example, a question asked could require a response that is part of the respondent’s background knowledge, or an “In My Head” response. In contrast, another particular question may require a response that needs to be obtained from past readings about something in particular.

Asking a question such as, “Have you ever been surprised when our production line shuts down?” cannot simply be addressed with information from reading something, even if what was read about tends to describe a situation like the one being asked. Further, a question like, “What might we do if and when the production line breaks down?” requires both an understanding of the dilemma and the ability to draw on one’s own background to solve the problem in a new way. To gain a better understanding for how the QAR relationship works, and why it is important, the process should be focused on question asking and answering within workplace contexts and their activities.

Excerpt: Effective Questioning in the Workplace: Pinpoint Leadership Skill Development Training Series (Majorium Business Press) $ 19.95 USD

Related:

The Six Phases of Critical Thinking

Decision-Making Begins When an Action Needs to Be Taken

Leaders Need to Focus on Questions Rather Than Offering Answers

Six Critical Issues To Consider When Solving Problems

Timothy F. Bednarz, Ph.D. | Author | Publisher | Majorium Business Press
Author of Great! What Makes Leaders Great: What They Did, How They Did It and What You Can Learn From It (Finalist – 2011 Foreword Reviews‘ Book of the Year)
Linkedin | Facebook | Twitter | Web| Blog | Catalog |800.654.4935 | 715.342.1018

Copyright © 2014 Timothy F. Bednarz, All Rights Reserved

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Correctly Framing Problems Pinpoints the Right Solution

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womanoncomputer

Critical thinking and working effectively with others relies on applying appropriate frames. Frames are cognitive shortcuts that individuals use to help make sense out of complex information and to interpret that information in a way that can be meaningfully represented to others. Frames help to organize complex experiences, occurrences and facts into logical and rational as well as understandable groupings and categories. By labeling these complex experiences, occurrences and facts it becomes possible to give meaning to some aspects of what is observed through them, while at the same time discounting other aspects because they appear to be irrelevant or counterintuitive. Frames provide meaning through selective simplification, by filtering people’s perceptions and providing them with a field of vision for a problem.

Frames significantly impact the critical thinking process. This is because they tend to be built upon personal beliefs, values, and experiences, where individuals often construct unique frames that tend to considerably vary. Frames normally exist prior to the processing of information and they highly affect identifying, assessing, analyzing, and evaluating information, upon which critical thinking is based.

Individuals tend to be separated not only by differences in personal interests, beliefs, and values, but also in how they perceive and understand things, both at a conscious as well as sub-conscious level. Within critical thinking, individuals generally apply framing not only as an aid to interpreting issues and information, but also at times, to generate or promote some form of a strategic advantage.

Framing is often the impetus for rationalizing self-interest, convincing others, building unity, or promoting a preference for a specific outcome. Numerous factors tend to affect how people frame experiences, situations and circumstances, which in turn, influences the path and direction that critical thinking takes.

The Importance of Framing When Thinking Critically

An essential element in critical thinking is understanding how and why frames affect decision making or problem solving development. In the context of critical thinking situations, disagreements often erupt. As a result, individuals tend to create frames to help understand why the disagreement exists, what actions are important to alter or negate it, why different individuals act as they do, and how individuals should act in response to what is occurring.

Within group situations and activities, frames serve as a type of strainer for information that is being gathered, assembled and analyzed. Personal framing tends to determine the development of priorities and ways to address and achieve them, which typically includes generating alternative solutions as well particular action plans for their implementation. Depending on the issue, problem or context of the task or goal at hand, framing may be used to conceptualize and interpret, or to manipulate and convince.

Framing tends to be tied to information processing, message patterns, linguistic cues, and socially constructed meanings. Knowing what the various types of frames are, and how they are constructed, allows individuals to draw conclusions about how they affect the development of critical thinking and its outcomes, as well as how they can be used to influence both. It is important to analyze existing frames from a personal perspective, as well as ones others use. Doing this offers fresh insight into the dynamics and development of group interaction, problem solving, conflict resolution as well as decision making.

The Sources and Forms of Frames

Many factors work to influence frames as well as their formation. Disagreements and opposite viewpoints are usually associated with a complex and reinforcing set of frames in oneself, and others, as well as associated elements of risk, what types of information should be applied to a given situation, and how decisions should be made. The frames that most highly influence disagreements and opposing viewpoints among individuals include ones of: identity, characterization, power, risk/information, and loss versus gain.

Identity Frames

Individuals tend to view themselves as having particular identities in the context of specific circumstances and situations. These identities spring from an individual’s self-conception and group affiliation. The more central the challenge to one’s sense of self, the more oppositional one is likely to act. Typical responses to threats to identity include ignoring information and perspectives that tend to threaten one’s core identity, reinforcing connections with like-minded individuals or groups, and negatively characterizing problems, issues or situations.

Characterization Frames

Closely related to stereotyping, characterization frames may be either positive or negative. Individuals view others as having particular characteristics and when they find themselves in disagreement or at odds with others often tend to construct characterization frames for them that significantly differ from how the other parties view themselves. Such characterizations often undermine others’ legitimacy, and cast doubt on their motivations, or exploit their sensitivity.

Characterization frames often tend to be linked to identity frames, which serve to strengthen one’s personal identity while justifying individual actions toward another, thinking for example, “I am a free thinker, but my opponent is closed-minded and because of it needs to be subdued or chastised.”

Power Frames

Because disagreement is often imbedded into critical thinking activities like decision making, individual conceptions of power and group control tend to play a significant role in them. Power frames help a disagreer determine which forms of power are justifiable, such as in the form of existing organizational structure. At the same time, power frames also help to determine certain forms of power that are likely to advance one’s own agenda or positioning, like authority, resources, expertise, or unity-building.

Risk and Information Frames

Disagreements that often erupt during critical thinking projects or activities often involve personal expectations about future events, where these events may either be risky, or where the likelihood of them occurring is quite uncertain. Within these types of situations, certain group members will often begin to construct risk and information frames that produce highly variable assessments about the level and extent of a particular risk.

From a positive viewpoint, risk and information frames work to indicate which sources of information tend to be reliable, and which ones are not. Risk and information frames depend not just on an individual’s points of interest, but also on the person’s level of training, expertise, personal exposure to the risk, familiarity with the risk, and the potential for disastrous or negative impacts due to it. Because of the ability to deeply analyze various risk factors and their potential consequences these critical thinkers tend to act and think in terms of the degree in which the risk is dreaded or feared.

Loss Versus Gain Frames

It is common for most individuals who work as a collective group in problem solving or decision making to focus on “threats of potential loss,” rather than on “opportunities for gain.” People tend to react differently to a proposed course of action when its expected consequences are framed in terms of “losses” as opposed to “gains.” Most times there will be individuals who hold firm to believing that preventing a perceived loss is much more relevant, significant, and high in value than securing an equal gain. This works to reinforce a psychological barrier in regard to taking a particular course of action or accepting a specific problem’s solution.

Reframing

Reframing is the process of purposefully managing one’s personal frames. With the help of reframing, individuals are more likely to find new ways to reach an agreement. Within critical thinking activities such as decision making or problem solving, the ability to effectively manage frames and the framing process can lead to important shifts not only in the frames themselves, but also in the impact that they have on group dynamics.

Reframing is intended to:

  • Clarify various viewpoints in order to bring about a more productive exchange of information by listening to ideas that were not previously considered. This includes expanding discussions to explore different courses of action or solutions that had not been previously addressed.
  • Enhance individuals’ understanding of their interests and how the forms of action they take are used to serve these interests, which is accomplished by examining potential processes for managing frames more productively and to reconsider patterns of interaction among other group members.
  • Identify concepts, issues, or informational areas that individuals tend to view differently, which is used to determine opportunities for compromise, negotiation or trade-offs, which can be based on these specific differences.
  • Identify differences to determine which ones cannot be bridged. As an essential part of reframing it becomes important to identify ways to reduce or eliminate areas of disagreement in a manner that does not violate these types of differences, which includes determining the degree of importance that is awarded to them.

Excerpt: Developing Critical Thinking Skills: Pinpoint Leadership Skill Development Training Series (Majorium Business Press, Stevens Point, WI2011) $ 19.95 USD

Related:

The Six Phases of Critical Thinking

Decision-Making Begins When an Action Needs to Be Taken

Leaders Need to Focus on Questions Rather Than Offering Answers

Six Critical Issues To Consider When Solving Problems

Timothy F. Bednarz, Ph.D. | Author | Publisher | Majorium Business Press
Author of Great! What Makes Leaders Great: What They Did, How They Did It and What You Can Learn From It (Finalist – 2011 Foreword Reviews‘ Book of the Year)
Linkedin | Facebook | Twitter | Web| Blog | Catalog |800.654.4935 | 715.342.1018

Copyright © 2014 Timothy F. Bednarz, All Rights Reserved

“Dissent, Even Conflict, is Necessary, Indeed Desirable”

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Ray Kroc- Founder of McDonald's

Ray Kroc- Founder of McDonald’s

In addition to allowing themselves to have their own thinking challenged, the great leaders also challenged the thinking of others, to help them to consider all possibilities and options. Consider the example of Ray Kroc (McDonald’s). “Suppose someone comes up with a proposal that McDonald’s should serve turkey sandwiches… Everyone on the board of directors can think of nine good reasons why turkey sandwiches would be a bad thing for us. They would blow the idea out of the water immediately. But Ray would say, ‘Wait a minute; let’s examine what this might do for us. Maybe we could make it work. If not turkey sandwiches, maybe we should try turkey hash.’ He wouldn’t let go of it until all possibilities had been considered.” 1

Admiral Hyman Rickover (U.S. Navy) illustrated this point of challenging the thought process, when he remarked, “One must create the ability in his staff to generate clear, forceful arguments for opposing viewpoints is well as for their own. Open discussions and disagreements must be encouraged, so that all sides of an issue will be fully explored. Further, important issues should be presented in writing. Nothing so sharpens the thought process as writing down one’s arguments. Weaknesses overlooked in oral discussion become painfully obvious on the written page.” 2

Peter Drucker commented, “Dissent, even conflict, is necessary, indeed desirable. Without dissent and conflict there is no understanding. And without understanding, there are only wrong decisions. To me the most fascinating parts of [Alfred] Sloan’s [General Motors] book [My Years With General Motors] are the memoranda in which he first elicits dissent and then synthesizes dissenting views into an understanding, and in the end, into consensus and commitment. Sloan implies that leadership is not charisma, not public relations, not showmanship. It is performance, consistent behavior, trustworthiness.” 3

James Burke (Johnson & Johnson) was “never one to fill his staff with employees who were afraid to state their minds, Burke enjoyed having different viewpoints on board. ‘My style is to encourage controversy and encourage people to say what they think,’ he told Fortune (October 24, 1988). He always wanted his employees to fight for what they believed in, without fear of repercussions.” 4

Henry Luce (Time Magazine) was known to challenge other’s thinking. It was reported, “‘Far from being pained by new ideas,’ Mr. [Hedley] Donovan [Editor in Chief – Time Magazine] said, ‘Harry Luce rejoices in them. He welcomes argument so ardently that it takes a certain amount of intellectual courage to agree with him when he is right, as is bound to happen from time to time.’ This was also the impression of Gilbert Cant, a Time editor for many years, who said: ‘His decisions may have been unidirectional but, by God, he thought a hell of a lot. Conversation with him was utterly maddening because he was always aware of the other side of any proposition he was stating, and he frequently tried to express both sides at once.’” 5

  1. How He Made McDonald’s Sizzle (Success Magazine, March 1, 2009)
  2. Admiral Rickover H.C., Doing a Job (management philosophy speech at Columbia University School of Engineering, 1981; CoEvolution Quarterly, 1982)
  3. Drucker Peter, The Best Book on Management Ever (Fortune Magazine, April 23, 1990)
  4. Watson Stephanie, Business Biographies: James Burke (http://www.referenceforbusiness.com/biography/A-E/Burke-James-1925.html)
  5. Whitman Alden, Henry R. Luce, Creator of Time-Life Magazine Empire, Dies in Phoenix at 68 (The New York Times, March 1, 1967)

Excerpt: Great! What Makes Leaders Great: What They Did, How They Did It and What You Can Learn From It. (Majorium Business Press, Stevens Point, WI 2011)

Read a free Chapter

Timothy F. Bednarz, Ph.D. | Author | Publisher | Majorium Business Press
Author of Great! What Makes Leaders Great: What They Did, How They Did It and What You Can Learn From It (Finalist – 2011 Foreword Reviews‘ Book of the Year)
Linkedin | Facebook | Twitter | Web| Blog | Catalog |800.654.4935 | 715.342.1018

Copyright © 2014 Timothy F. Bednarz, All Rights Reserved

Creating a Culture of Innovation

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Hewlett-Packard Company co-founders David Packard (seated) and William Hewlett run final production tests on a shipment of the 200A audio oscillator. The picture was taken in 1939 in the garage at 367 Addison Avenue, Palo Alto, California, where they began their business.  Photo courtesy of Hewlett-Packard/Newsmakers

Hewlett-Packard Company co-founders David Packard (seated) and William Hewlett run final production tests on a shipment of the 200A audio oscillator. The picture was taken in 1939 in the garage at 367 Addison Avenue, Palo Alto, California, where they began their business.
Photo courtesy of Hewlett-Packard/Newsmakers

Effective leaders are the key influence in bringing about innovation and opportunity. Their search for ways to advance and grow the organization takes them far beyond the traditional structures, methods and concepts that have worked in the past. In today’s fast-paced market climate, empowering members to test new approaches and ideas is critical. This creates the innovation, creativity and opportunity needed to drive change.

The forces of change come from both inside and outside the organization: customers are the source of demand for product and service innovation; process innovation generally comes from within the organization itself and through its employee members. There are definite factors needed to create the innovation—in essence a willingness to break from past methods—to effect positive change and incremental transformations.

A major function of the leader’s role is to stimulate innovation and creativity, to bring about incremental transformations that improve an organization’s products, services and overall quality. This is necessary in order to meet both external and internal customer needs. Accomplishing this is done through developing an empowered environment that instills and reinforces innovation.

In order to create an environment conducive to the full empowerment of its members, leaders must depend on consistently influencing others while keeping all communication channels between units, divisions and upper management open. Leaders realize that employees doing the frontline work are the best resource to utilize in designing more effective processes, generating creative ideas and quality improvement concepts, and implementing the best solutions to overcome inefficiencies.

Only when employees take an active role will creative innovations, new ideas, processes, services and product improvements consistently flow within and out of the organization. Whether this state is successfully attained or not depends on whether leaders acknowledge the factors generating imagination, resourcefulness and risk taking in their employees.

There are three chief characteristics of an environment supportive of innovation, creativity and risk taking. Successful establishment of this environment is dependent upon leaders building recognition of these factors. They include:

Experimentation and Breaking Away from Constraints

Leaders are experimenters by nature. However, they need to instill this desire in employees to experiment with new approaches to old problems, to accept the challenge of trial and error. Throughout this process, leaders actively help employees remove the barriers to creativity and innovation by identifying and breaking down self-imposed constraints on personal perceptions, thinking habits and patterns.

Outsight and Insight

Because innovation depends upon creative ideas—most of them coming from outside general conventional thinking—innovation within an empowered environment depends heavily on what is referred to as “outsight.” Outsight is the ability to perceive external realities. It is the necessary forerunner to insight, or the ability to apprehend the inner nature of things. An awareness and understanding of outsight forces comes through openness and flexibility. It is up to leaders to open the doors to the world beyond conventional boundaries and expose employees to a broader spectrum of situations, problems and concerns.

Developing a ‘Hardiness Factor’

Uncertainty and risk are part of the price both leaders and employees pay for being innovative. Leaders generally thrive on uncertainty and risk, but it is often another matter for employees. To overcome feelings of insecurity in regard to these two areas, the question becomes, “How do employees within the organizational unit learn to accept the inevitable failures and accompanying stress of creative innovation and the circumstances surrounding it?” The answer rests in cultivating a sense of hardiness and resilience.

When a healthy sense of hardiness reveals itself, it will be observed through actions and beliefs mirroring the sentiment that “uncertainty and risk are more interesting than being fearful.” Employees know they do have a definite influence on specific outcomes, which motivates rather than intimidates. They see uncertainty and risk as opportunity.

Timothy F. Bednarz, Ph.D. | Author | Publisher | Majorium Business Press
Author of Great! What Makes Leaders Great: What They Did, How They Did It and What You Can Learn From It (Finalist – 2011 Foreword Reviews‘ Book of the Year)
Linkedin | Facebook | Twitter | Web| Blog | Catalog |800.654.4935 | 715.342.1018

Copyright © 2013 Timothy F. Bednarz, All Rights Reserved

Mistakes as a Source of Innovation

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Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos  Photo by David McNew/Getty Images

Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos
Photo by David McNew/Getty Images

Effective leaders adhered to an unalterable expectation that mistakes and failure need to be an acceptable part of the process of innovation. They opposed “zero tolerance for mistakes” policies, many of which are still being practiced in many companies today. They considered these to be hindrances to innovation.

“It’s easy to believe that Jeff Bezos is one of the great innovators. But that’s not exactly the case. His rise into Fortune 500-dom actually has little to do with innovation and more to do with iteration. If anything, Amazon demonstrates how a cutting-edge Internet company – of all things – can succeed slowly. The trick is taking a million tiny steps – and quickly learning from your missteps.” [1]

The mega-inventors of the 19th Century are also prime examples of this philosophy. “[George] Westinghouse (Westinghouse) built on his engineering skills, learning how to design and evaluate industrial trials. Time after time he turned trial failures into commercial successes. Even his competitors hailed his problem solving skills…” [2] “[Thomas] Edison (Edison Electric) viewed even disasters as an opportunity for learning. On one occasion his lab stove went out in the dead of winter, causing an assortment of expensive chemicals to freeze. On another occasion unprotected chemicals were damaged by sunlight. Instead of bemoaning the losses, Edison put aside all other projects to catalogue changes in the properties of the bottled substances… ‘He knew how to turn lemons into lemonade.’[3]

Walt Disney (Disney) took a proactive approach toward mistakes. “Walt found a way to push improvement without laying blame. [He] take(s) a look at what [someone says]… not glossing over a problem with the gag. He implicitly acknowledges it could be better. But rather than indulge an employee’s criticism of another worker, he demands a positive, forward-thinking attitude – ‘what we can do to make it better…’ Walt kept employees engaged and contributing by not shooting down suggestions, but instead steering employees toward improving their ideas… Walt’s approach to suggestions as the difference between responding ‘Yes, if…’ or ‘No, because…’ [4]

As Sam Walton grew Wal-Mart into a retailing giant, he realized that “not all of his ideas worked. The minnow buckets didn’t sell. People in Wisconsin didn’t go for his Moon Pies. But when he saw he was wrong, he admitted his mistake and went on to try something else. And he wanted his associates to be the same way. He’d get them together on Saturday mornings to share their success and admit their failures. That culture of candor produced a great environment to capture ideas. It helped that he had ‘very little capacity for embarrassment.’[5]


[1]  Quittner Josh, The Charming Life of Amazon’s Jeff Bezos (Fortune Magazine, April 15, 2008)

[2]  Quentin R. Skrabec, Jr., George Westinghouse: Gentle Genius (Algora Publishing, New York, 2007) p. 61

[3]  McAuliffe Kathleen, The Undiscovered World of Thomas Edison (Atlantic Magazine, December 1995)

[4]  Niles Robert, Disney Legends Recall Walt Disney and the ‘Yes, It…. Way of Management (Theme Park Insider, November 19, 2009)

[5]  Walton Sam Made in America. A Money Book Summary (character-education.info)

Excerpt: Great! What Makes Leaders Great: What They Did, How They Did It and What You Can Learn From It (Majorium Business Press, Stevens Point, WI 2012)

Read a Free Chapter

Timothy F. Bednarz, Ph.D. | Author | Publisher | Majorium Business Press
Author of Great! What Makes Leaders Great: What They Did, How They Did It and What You Can Learn From It (Finalist – 2011 Foreword Reviews‘ Book of the Year)
Linkedin | Facebook | Twitter | Web| Blog | Catalog |800.654.4935 | 715.342.1018

Copyright © 2013 Timothy F. Bednarz, All Rights Reserved

Seven Components of Critical Thinking

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leaderinchair

Critical thinking is a powerful process if understood and applied effectively. When developing critical thinking skills, it is important to understand more about the activity and process that comprises it. Once understood, fears about actively applying critical thinking skills will likely dissipate. Critical thinking is able to translate the thinking process into clear, persuasive, truthful language, which is carefully and logically crafted. At the same time it is able to convert perceptions and reactions into concepts, ideas, assumptions, suppositions, inferences, hypotheses, questions, beliefs, premises and logical arguments.

There are many misconceptions about critical thinking that tend to hinder individuals from continually working to develop it. Unfortunately many assume the process is too difficult and remain unenlightened as to how the process can help them not only in their work environments, but in their own personal lives as well.

Four roadblocks often create negative feelings about getting more involved in the critical thinking process:

  • It is more of a negative process, since it tends to tear down ideas and inserts nothing in their place. In actuality, it is a positive process that is able to put things in a more realistic perspective.
  • It will lead to the inability to make commitments to people or ideas. In actuality, commitments become informed ones.
  • It seems to involve traumatic change since one is expected to continually abandon old assumptions. In actuality, some beliefs stay the same individuals simply become more informed.
  • It is detached, unemotional and cold. In actuality, it is highly poignant and liberating, since individuals tend to be free of their past assumptions and the anxiety of self-scrutiny.

Critical Thinking Encompasses Specific Elements

Every process or method is made of essential components, and critical thinking is no different. These components provide a structure to the process, which if incorporated, makes persuasive, truthful and supportive verbal communication possible to highly influence others’ points of view and message acceptance. The major components in critical thinking include: perception, assumptions, emotion, language, argument, fallacy, logic, and problem solving.

Perception

Perception is considered to be the manner in which individuals receive, interpret and translate experiences. How individuals perceive things works to define how they think. Perception tends to provide individuals a significant filtering system.

Assumptions

Assumptions are central to critical thinking. They tend to be implied, where individuals are not always conscious of them. Assumptions are not always bad and often rest on the notion that some ideas are obvious. They tend to make individuals comfortable with their present beliefs, shutting out any alternatives.

Emotion

Trying to leave emotion out of almost anything is impossible as it is part of everything people do and think. Emotions are the number one cause of creating and putting into place thinking and operating barriers, which are continually used as a defense mechanism. Critical thinkers do not ignore or deny emotions but learn to accept and manage them.

Language

Thinking can’t be separated from language since both tend to have three primary purposes: to inform, persuade and explain. Language denotes (designates meanings) and connotes (implies or suggests something), and relies heavily on the use of metaphors. Metaphors are powerful language tools, which are able to influence how individuals think and problem solve. These figures of speech give great color and depth to one’s language. Metaphors can be short phrases, stories, or even poetic renditions and is a verbal message that listeners can easily interpret and visualize.

Argument

An argument is a claim, which is used to persuade that something is (or is not) true, or should (or should not) be done. An argument contains three basic elements: an issue, one or more reasons or premises, and one or more conclusions. An argument can be either valid or invalid based on its structure and only premises & conclusions are reached, which are either true or false.

The goal of critical thinking is to implement a sound argument, which has both a valid or proper structure and contains true premises. This is where using logic makes all the difference.

Fallacy

Reasoning that doesn’t meet the criteria for being a sound argument is considered erroneous, or fallacious. A fallacy comes from incorrect patterns of reasoning. However, it does not always mean that the conclusion is false, but it does underscore the fact that the reasoning used to support it is not: valid, based on true premises, or complete and does not include all necessary relevant information.

Logic

Logic incorporates two methods or types of reasoning: deductive and inductive. Deductive reasoning relies on facts, certainty, syllogisms, validity, truth of premises sound arguments and supported conclusions. Inductive reasoning relies on diverse facts, probability, generalizations, hypotheses, analogies and inductive strength.

Problem Solving Through Logic

A logic problem is like any problem. It requires:

  • Understanding the problem. In other words, listen, read & take heed.
  • Identifying all of the “unknowns” as well as the “knowns.”
  • Interpreting relationships between them (visual aids can help).
  • Generating a strategy from steps two and three.
  • Applying the strategy and solving the problem.
  • Repeating the process if it is necessary.

Excerpt: Developing Critical Thinking Skills: Pinpoint Leadership Skill Development Training Series (Majorium Business Press, Stevens Point, WI 2011) $ 19.95 USD

Related:

The Six Phases of Critical Thinking

Decision-Making Begins When an Action Needs to Be Taken

Correctly Framing Problems Pinpoints the Right Solution

Leaders Need to Focus on Questions Rather Than Offering Answers

Six Critical Issues To Consider When Solving Problems

For Additional Information the Author Recommends the Following Books:

Conflict Resolution: Pinpoint Management Skill Development Series

Intelligent Decision Making: Pinpoint Management Skill Development Training Series

Planning to Maximize Performance: Pinpoint Leadership Skill Development Training Series

Timothy F. Bednarz, Ph.D. | Author | Publisher | Majorium Business Press
Author of Great! What Makes Leaders Great: What They Did, How They Did It and What You Can Learn From It (Finalist – 2011 Foreword Reviews‘ Book of the Year)
Linkedin | Facebook | Twitter | Web| Blog | Catalog |800.654.4935 | 715.342.1018

Copyright © 2013 Timothy F. Bednarz, All Rights Reserved

Seven Styles of Questioning That Sharpen Critical Thinking Skills

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problemsolving1

Informational gathering processes are designed to assist leaders in asking questions that facilitate the thinking skills of observation and recall. Both observation and recall thinking skills are foundational to the collection and retention of specific facts.

When questioning to promote creative and critical thinking, it is important to use employees’ responses to guide subsequent questions within discussions and dialogues. Make sure to use predetermined formulated questions for dictating, channeling or directing employee responses.

Clues for posing appropriate and effective processing and probing questions are to be found in the responses given to the core questions that were asked. Because of this, leaders have to be adept listeners in order to ask appropriate processing questions that bring about quality responses.

There are seven different types of processing questions that can be used to generate higher levels of thinking. It is important to understand where and when to use each:

Refocusing Questions

Refocus questions are needed if employees are not doing enough in-depth thinking, or if are talking off the subject. To refocus employee responses, leaders may need to reacquaint them with what was said, and then restate the core question. It is important to provide specific examples when refocusing employees back onto a particular subject, idea or concept.

Clarifying Questions

Clarification is needed if responses are unclear, or if the leader feels that more appropriate language could be used to express the responder’s comment, opinion or idea. Applying clarifying questions is an excellent way to build vocabulary. Appropriate clarification questions help employees define words and bring meaning to their ideas. Most miscommunication and misunderstanding is caused by not clarifying words, thoughts, concepts or ideas accurately and appropriately.

Verifying Questions

Verifying questions provide opportunities to cite or give evidence for ideas or specific information. Responses tend to be based on personal experiences. When verifying information, it is important to state what authorities or experts say is true, and to use a principle or generalization to support the information.

Redirecting Questions

Redirecting questions are designed to enhance personal interactions. They should be asked as often as possible within topical discussions and investigative meetings, gatherings or sessions. Redirecting questions gain a variety of responses from different employees. Two ways to redirect thinking about something is to ask: “What is another (way…thing…idea) we can bring to light to discuss about this?” And, “Will someone else offer another idea or insight on this topic?”

Narrowing the Focus Questions

Narrow the focus questions are used to limit the content of what is discussed or talked about. They are based on the “content characteristics” or the concepts or ideas the leader plans to address, question and discuss.

Supporting Questions

Supporting questions should be asked in order to mentally link relationships between or among evidence and statements of inference, such as cause/effect and/or prediction. Supporting questions also provide opportunities to state reasons for groupings, labels, sequences and classifications.

Recall and Verification Questions

Verification is especially critical in recalling pieces of data, information or concepts. Verification is gathered both as part of the primary material covered, as well as outside of it, in the form of past experiences, authorities, principles and generalizations.

Verifying through experiences, authorities, principles and generalizations further extends an employee’s investigative skills by building additional evidence to support facts. When discussing specific facts of a particular concept or principle, the leader should ask several kinds of verifying questions so that employees become more enlightened by their understanding of the facts. For example, if an employee is asked the basic verification question, “How do you know ____?” and the employee responds, “Because I ____.” it is important to follow up with another verification question that asks, “Where did you find that information?”

Informational Gathering Processes

By providing employees the opportunity to practice observing and recalling, they will better understand the thinking skills and become more aware of the types of questions they need to ask themselves when encountering situations which call for gathering and retaining information. Situations that require the observing-thinking skill must be real and representational. While situations that require the recalling-thinking skill must include questions with words that cue recollection. This at first may seem unnecessary or unimportant, however, by using cueing words, the leader assists employees in understanding how they gathered the topical content.

It also enables employees to provide sound, verifiable evidence. For example, if a leader says: “Tell me about the work task you did yesterday,” employees can say how they felt about it, or talk about other tasks or assignments they liked. Further, by using the “cues” for recall, “What do you recall about your last assignment in terms of its importance?” the employee is more apt to speak directly to the details of the assignment and/or associated tasks.

Apply a Questioning Reflection Guide

There may come a time when a leader discovers that problems have surfaced when conducting a particular instructional session or meeting discussion with their employees. It may be a good policy (at least initially) to tape and transcribe at least a 5 or 10 minute interactive question and answer process. Then have another leader or peer critique the session and suggest ways to improve upon the question and answer process.

Specific things to listen for include the types of questions and sequence of questions that promote employee responses and thinking, and how to better utilize the responses. One other important thing to listen for is the pauses that occur during the “wait time” and the amount of time that passes between questions and responses.

Excerpt: Effective Questioning in the Workplace: Pinpoint Leadership Skill Development Training Series (Majorium Business Press, Stevens Point, WI 2011)

Related:

Decision-Making Begins When an Action Needs to Be Taken

Correctly Framing Problems Pinpoints the Right Solution

Leaders Need to Focus on Questions Rather Than Offering Answers

Six Critical Issues To Consider When Solving Problems

For Additional Information the Author Recommends the Following Books:

Developing Critical Thinking Skills: The Pinpoint Leadership Skill Development Training Series

Conflict Resolution: Pinpoint Management Skill Development Series

Intelligent Decision Making: Pinpoint Management Skill Development Training Series

Planning to Maximize Performance: Pinpoint Leadership Skill Development Training Series

Timothy F. Bednarz, Ph.D. | Author | Publisher | Majorium Business Press
Author of Great! What Makes Leaders Great: What They Did, How They Did It and What You Can Learn From It (Finalist – 2011 Foreword Reviews‘ Book of the Year)
Linkedin | Facebook | Twitter | Web| Blog | Catalog |800.654.4935 | 715.342.1018

Copyright © 2013 Timothy F. Bednarz, All Rights Reserved

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