Critical thinking must be top of mind

A shortage of critical thinking among students and practitioners is one of the big challenges facing PR education and the profession at large. We all think, but critical thinking is difficult because our egos and other factors can lead to undisciplined, biased, self-centered, even prejudiced thinking.

A shortage of critical thinking among students and practitioners is one of the big challenges facing PR education and the profession at large, say leaders in the field. Critical thinking can help individuals see underlying connections among disparate ideas or facts, assess information logically, and resolve complex issues. We all think, but critical thinking is difficult because our egos and other factors can lead to undisciplined, biased, self-centered, even prejudiced thinking.

It is also complex because it's more than a set of skills. It is “self-guided, self-disciplined thinking that attempts to reason at the highest level of quality in a fair-minded way. People who think critically consistently attempt to live rationally, reasonably, emphathically,” according to Dr. Linda Elder of The Foundation for Critical Thinking.

Critical thinking is a process of thinking about how we think and trying to improve it. This is where standards and skills come in – standards for clarity, logic, evidence, and relevance, among others. We apply these standards to cultivate our abilities to ask clear and relevant questions, collect and assess data and information, identify points of view and assumptions, and draw well-reasoned conclusions. Applying these standards requires discipline, open-mindedness, honesty, and self-awareness.

Face it, critical thinking is difficult. It's far easier to criticize and complain, or to believe that something is true because we want it to be true or because it supports our point of view. Teachers, mentors, supervisors, and colleagues can help develop your critical thinking by asking questions about projects and assignments and discussing them in a systematic manner in the workplace or classroom. Ultimately, though, it's up to each individual. You can't buy critical thinking, but you can develop your capabilities. 

Visit The Foundation for Critical Thinking's website and obtain a copy of the Miniature Guide to Critical Thinking. This 20-page booklet, which easily slips into a pocket, contains criteria and templates for asking questions, assessing information, building reasoning, and much more. You can read it on a train or plane and practice the ideas daily.

Critical thinking might be an individual's and organization's most valuable resource, one that's highly prized today in our complex global world. It's not self-sustaining, but it can be infinitely enriched. 

Bruce Berger, Ph.D. is Reese Phifer Professor of Advertising and Public Relations at the University of Alabama and a member of the board of The Plank Center for Leadership in Public Relations. Previously he was VP of PR at Whirlpool. His column focuses on PR students, young professionals, and education. He can be reached at berger@apr.ua.edu.

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