Thank God It's Monday!® Blog

Critical thinking skills

A recent study of executives showed that their number one concern is not having people with the critical thinking skills to fill the corner offices.

Another study showed that the average American student shows zero increase in critical thinking skills after four years of college. Whoa! No wonder employers are worried!

But critical thinking has to be more than a vague buzzword, and that starts by knowing what it is and isn’t.

It’s very common for someone to think that critical thinking just means “being smart,” or knowing a lot. But that’s misleading. Critical thinking is not about what you know, but how you think. It’s the systematic attempt to avoid errors in reasoning, especially errors that creep in because of our own biases and preferences. Everybody has those biases, but a critical thinker knows how to counter them effectively.

Start by identifying your preferences. You would prefer to be thought highly of, to be the best worker on the team, to be a candidate for promotion. But it’s important not to fool yourself into thinking these things are true if they’re not. Performance reviews are one way of getting outside of your own circle of bias. Seek other ways by simply asking people who you trust to tell the truth: Do you think my work is solid? Do you think I’m a good candidate for promotion? If not, what can I improve?

So it’s not about knowing more—it’s about recognizing the things that get in the way of seeing the truth and acting on them.

Done right, critical thinking can be the secret weapon that allows for massive effectiveness and powerful results and returns in your organization.

Let down your defenses

Picture yourself in a physical defensive crouch. You’re huddled close to the ground, eyes closed, hands clutching your head. You’ve given up trying to move. Instead, you’re preparing for a beating, or to strike back.

Emotional defensiveness is just the same. The mental “crouch” paralyzes you. It keeps you from growing or moving forward.

Defensiveness often comes from a place of low self-esteem, which in turn creates a self-reinforcing downward spiral. Everyone around the defensive person walks on eggshells, including those who might otherwise try to help. Worst of all, the defensive person is fatally uncoachable, and therefore unpromotable.

So why are people defensive? People hear things through their filters. Based on their life experiences, if they feel unworthy, you can mention to them that the moon is beautiful last night and they’ll likely hear it as, “You were expecting the sun instead.” They hear it as yet another way you’re telling them they are inadequate.

If you become defensive in the face of criticism, it’s time to get a handle on it. Realize that someone offering advice is not attacking you, but critiquing your work in order to help you. Instead of pushing back with a “tone,” seize the opportunity to improve. Ask questions to get more information.

Ask yourself repeatedly, “What’s the WORST that can happen as a result of a criticism?” You’ll often find that even bad option hinges on how you receive the criticism. Receive it defensively and it can cripple you. Receive it enthusiastically and it can vault you to the top.

Let down that drawbridge, blow the doors off with your coachability, and there is NOTHING you can’t achieve.

Make it a great day

For most of my life I’ve heard people tell me to, “Have a great day!” It always seemed like a nice enough thing to say—until the first time I heard someone change it just slightly.

It blew me out of the water.

It was years ago, I was picking something up from the pharmacy, and the girl handed me my receipt and said, “Thank you—make it a great day!”

Such a small change, but what a difference! “Have a great day” is a basically wish, a hope that your day will be great. But if you tell me to make it a great day, it underlines the fact that the greatness of my day is in my control.

It’s true! So much of our experience of life is determined by the way we react to things as they happen. Yes, the rain complicates your drive to work. It also brings life to every living thing. Focus on one and a rainy day is a drag. Focus on the other and it’s a miracle and a relief.

Once in a while my husband and I underline this in our own way. We wake up and say, “I wonder what super fantastic thing is going to happen to us today?”

However you do it, take control of the greatness of your day, and help others do the same!

Signs of disengagement

Have you seen the TV series Lie To Me? The main character is an expert in micro-expressions, including the subtle signs that someone is not telling the truth.

When it comes to disengagement at work, a lot of the same signs are in play, and you don’t have to be an expert to spot them. You just have to care enough to look for them.

When people are disengaged, they make eyes at others during meetings as if others can’t see it. The person playing with a pencil, not making eye contact, or even texting during a meeting is disengaged. They might stand off to the side after the meeting is over, speaking under their breath, or even leave early without permission.

Forbes columnist Kevin Kruse suggests an intervention as early as possible. Engage the disengaged person by asking for input or opinions during the meeting: “Michelle, how do you think we can approach this in the most effective way?”

If the person doesn’t snap out by the end of the meeting, have a quick chat right away: “I couldn’t help noticing that you seemed a little distracted during the meeting. Do you have any concerns about the way this is being done?”

This can be done no matter who you are. You don’t have to be the project leader to address disengagement, just a team member who cares. And be sure to present it in a positive way (“Do you have any concerns about the way this is being done?”), not as an accusation (“You seem to have an attitude problem”).

The company, and everyone in it, can benefit from the care you show in effectively addressing disengagement on the spot.

Reading for mastery

Many years ago, a teacher of mine said reading a book is an opportunity to walk around in someone else’s mind. You don’t just learn things—you actually get inside someone else’s ideas. And when that someone is one of the great minds of business, you have an opportunity for growth unlike any other.

Reading for pleasure is a wonderful thing. But make sure you are also reading for self-improvement, for mastery of the skills that add up to success in your field.

When you are not reading, your income potential is not going up. If you spend an evening watching TV, you rarely say, “Oh my gosh, I’m SO glad I watched TV all evening. I can just feel myself growing.” But when you read a book that’s part of your plan for mastery, you can have that feeling every day.

Mastery of anything takes at least ten years. But that’s not ten years of simply showing up. You need ten years where you’re on a growth curve EVERY YEAR. If you’re in sales or management or have a technical position, you need to read a book at least every month to remain relevant.

Become THE expert in your field. And while you’re at it, start studying for the job you want next. Even if your boss’s job doesn’t open for you, you’ve proven you can self-learn and self-manage. And with that reputation, you can go anywhere!