Good critical thinking can be applied in the classroom, the office, and in your daily life, making this a vital collection of skills to learn and master. Critical thinking is the ability to reason, evaluate, analyze, and draw meaningful conclusions about a situation or a claim, essential tools in being a fair debate partner, a team leader, a receptive student, and more.
In order to hone and practice your own skills, there are a number of critical thinking questions you can review, and activities you can try, both solo and in groups. In this guide, we’ll go over two easy-to-replicate example scenarios, and how to best approach them from a critical thinking standpoint.
If you feel prepared by the end of this guide, consider joining the Critical Thinker Academy for a more substantial look into the critical thinking process and its many applications.
Levels of Critical Thinking
Before we dive into the examples, it’s important to know the different levels of critical thinking.
On the lower level, we have skills like retention and understanding, basic social capabilities that allow us to comprehend a message at its most superficial. This is still extremely important. If we don’t know all the facts, how can we be expected to think critically about them, and dig out the key points?
Some questions you can ask yourself at the lower level include:
- Who’s involved?
- What happened?
- What does _____ mean?
- Is there a primary conflict?
- Is this relevant to a previous scenario?
The strong analytical skills come in at the higher level. This is where we analyze the information we’ve processed, apply old knowledge and experiences to see how it applies, evaluate on the basis of our own code of ethics, or whichever code of ethics is appropriate for the circumstance, draw a conclusion, and – if necessary – form a solution.
Some questions you can ask yourself at the higher level include:
- What are the implications of _____?
- Why did _____ do _____?
- How is _____ similar to _____?
- What is at stake?
- What are the counterpoints of _____?
- How would things be different if _____?
- Why do I agree/disagree with _____?
- What is the cause of _____?
- How can _____ be prevented?
- What other perspectives exist?
Learn more with this Udemy course on critical thinking and problem solving.
Critical Thinking Activities
Let’s apply these critical thinking skills to analyze two different scenarios. We will examine one situation you may encounter on a daily basis, and another that is more likely school or work-related.
Both are helpful for understanding how to apply different sets of critical thinking skills to different circumstances.
Commercials and Advertisements
Here’s something many of us see every day. Whether you’re at home or on your way to work, advertisements creep into our lives in all shapes and sizes – television ads, billboards, on the sides of buses, on top of taxis, inside the subway, in our mailboxes, and more. Because of their prevalence, most of us shrug off advertisements and only acknowledge them with a passive mindset. Let’s get analyzing!
Because they tend to have more content than a simple billboard, try to recall a familiar TV commercial. Ask yourself the lower level questions:
- What kind of people did the ad feature?
- What happened in the ad?
- What does the product advertised do?
- What was the tone of the ad? Funny? Urgent?
- What other ads have you seen that are similar to this one?
Now that the commercial is clear in your mind, ask yourself the higher level questions:
- What were the implications of using and/or not using the product?
- Why did the person in the commercial end up using the product?
- What is at stake for the consumer if they don’t use the product?
- What are some reasons you can think of to not use the product?
- How would things be different if the product didn’t exist?
- Do you agree with the importance of the product?
- Do you agree with the consequences if the product is not used?
- Is the advertisement biased? Does it unfairly target a particular audience?
- What other alternative products exist?
By asking critical questions like this about advertisements, we can combat their often negative and subliminal effects, thus becoming more conscious consumers. The answers you come up with for the higher level questions often lead to more questions: about politics, sociology, economics, and more. That’s critical thinking in your everyday life!
Still struggling? Check out this easy guide on developing critical thinking skills.
The Disgruntled Co-Worker
When you work with others on a daily basis, there are bound to be some disagreements. Before you decide to get involved with a complicated situation, use your critical thinking skills to break down the scenario from every possible angle.
At your job, you work as a team with about ten other people managing a project. You hold meetings about the project twice a week, and at each one your co-worker John has little to no input, passively agreeing with the decisions made by the rest of the group. During work, however, John is most vocal about the issues he has with the direction chosen at the meeting, or a particular change made by the group. How would you go about addressing this situation?
Again, let’s break this situation down into its most basic parts:
- Who’s involved? John, you, and the rest of your co-workers who are part of the team.
- What happened? John does not speak up at meetings about his problems with group decisions, instead asserting his dissent only after the decision has been made.
- What does this mean? John is not someone who wants to or is capable of speaking up when he has a disagreement.
- Is there a primary conflict? The team lacks John’s feedback during meetings, and decisions are made without his input, thus harming productivity.
And now, let’s analyze the situation and see if we can form a reasonable solution, based on what we know:
- What are the implications of John’s lack of assertiveness? Perhaps John is shy in group settings, or insecure in his ideas until he has proof that they are correct. Maybe John has stage fright, maybe he is only comfortable around certain people at work, or maybe there is some tension between him and another co-worker during the meetings.
- What is at stake? John’s value as a co-worker and the productivity of the team.
- How would things be different if John spoke up at meetings? The team would know his input ahead of time, and be able to make informed decisions based on the feedback of all the co-workers involved. The team can avoid conflicts of interest later by addressing them early on. John would be satisfied with the direction of the group, and be able to work more efficiently.
- Why do I disagree with John not speaking up? I want to know John’s feedback ahead of time, so I can take it into account. His ideas might be valuable to the team. We should be able to know them right away, and he should feel comfortable expressing them.
A possible solution to this could be approaching John, addressing the pattern you’ve noticed, and asking him if there’s any way you can help. Don’t lay any specific blame on John. You’ve already considered the possibility of him being shy, or insecure, and so your approach should be empathetic and understanding, not accusatory and angry. Ask him if he wants to have a one-on-one meeting to discuss ideas about the project, and ask if he wants your help to bring these to light at the next meeting. Let him know his ideas are valuable, and he should not wait to share them.
This is the benefit of critical thinking: you’ve isolated the possible root causes of a problem, and designed a way to approach it as a whole to specify which is the real issue. If you’re applying critical thinking skills to work-related issues, it would help to check out this Udemy course on conflict resolution skills as well.