Blog courtesy of Professional Development Coach at TDM, Melanie Eastwood.

What is Critical Thinking?

But how would you define it? Critical thinking is defined by many different people in many different ways, but there is a common thread throughout. See below for some definitions:

SkillsYouNeed website state – “Critical thinking is the ability to think clearly and rationally, understanding the logical connection between ideas.”

The University of Edinburgh shares their definition – “Critical thinking is the art of making clear, reasoned judgements based on interpreting, understanding, applying and synthesising evidence gathered from observation, reading and experimentation.

The Google definition is “Critical thinking is the intellectually disciplined process of actively and skillfully conceptualizing, applying, analysing, synthesizing, and/or evaluating information gathered from, or generated by, observation, experience, reflection, reasoning, or communication, as a guide to belief and action.”

The common thread is the association with reasoning and with our capacity for rational thought. When having a mindset of critical thinking, we challenge ourselves to have clear, goal directed thinking and allows us the time to analyze information to make reasonable judgements and discount bias that may influence our thoughts and actions. Reasoning starts with ourselves. If we are able to reason effectively and think critically we are able to have sound reasons for what we do and believe, have the ability to evaluate our own beliefs and actions and finally are able to present to others the reasons for our beliefs and actions.

In the book “Critical Thinking Skills” Stella Cottrell sums it up as:

“Critical thinking is a process that relies upon, and develops, a wide rang of skills and personal qualities. It improves with practice and with a proper sense of what is required. For some people this may mean changing behaviors, such as paying attention to detail or taking a more skeptical approach to what they see, hear and read.

For others, weaknesses in critical thinking abilities may stem from attitudes to criticism, and anxiety about potential consequences. Sometimes it is sufficient to become aware of these barriers and to recognise the blocks to effective thinking in order for the anxiety to subside.


Why is Critical Thinking Important?

Critical thinking skills impact many areas of our personal and professional lives. It is an essential mindset to adopt when analyzing information at work, presenting ideas, self-evaluating, professional and academic writing as well as planing the way forward.

It helps us to separate fact from fiction, transfer knowledge, as quality questions and challenge assumptions.

Using critical thinking skills:

  • Gives us a heightened sense of self awareness
  • Helps us to spot your own and other people’s assumptions
  • Grants us the ability to make fair, sound decisions
  • Ability to identify what is relevant and significant, thus saving time and effort
  • Clearer thinking and better communication
  • Better problem-solving skills, such as in identifying where improvements could be made and evaluating solutions
  • Ability to take a systematic approach to tasks to ensure details are not overlooked. 
  • Increased confidence in taking on more complex tasks and challenges
  • Greater speed and accuracy in analysing complex information.
  • Less likelihood of being mislead or cheated.


The Process

Critical thinking is a complex process of deliberation which involves a wide range of skills and attitudes. It includes:

  • Identifying other people’s positions, arguments and conclusions
  • Evaluating the evidence for alternative points of view
  • Weighing up opposing arguments and evidence fairly
  • Being able to read between the lines, seeing behind the surfaces and identifying false or unfair assumptions
  • Recognising techniques used to make certain positions more appealing than others, such as false logic and persuasive devices
  • Reflecting on issues in a structured way, bringing logic and insight to bear
  • Drawing conclusions about whether arguments are valid and justifiable, based on good evidence and sensible assumptions
  • Synthesising information: drawing together your judgements of the evidence, synthesising these to form your own new position
  • Presenting a point of view in a structured, clear, well-reasoned way that convinces others


Critical Thinking Killers

1. Over-reliance on authority

You need to be able to question information and trust evidence over authority. Ensure you have proof for your conclusion and you are not just accepting something as true because of the person laying it down to you.

2. Black and White Thinking

Placing things in absolute for or against categories and removing space for nuance and complexity are a huge hindrance to critical thinking

3. Quick Moral Judgements

Hastiness blocks critical thinking. You need to give yourself time.

4. Labels

Labels cause us to miss differences and justify our own assessments based on the label we have given rather than on the evidence presented. Challenge the label that you have assigned rather than altering the evidence to fit the label!

5. Resistance to Change

Reacting negatively towards ideas or change. Do all you can to set-aside immediate reactions and emotional reactions to situations and give yourself time to critically think through the scenario.