Archive
October  2014
Critical Thinking and Emotions
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October 2014    The Headscratcher Post © Headscratchers LLC     Edition 107
Critical Thinking and Emotions
Critical Thinking and Emotions.   Many assume critical thinking is non-emotional.  We wish.  We’re human, and humans have values.  These values often manifest themselves in your emotions and influence every conclusion you make.  There’s no getting rid of them.  Critical Thinking isn’t non-emotional, but includes being aware of the emotions that are influencing you.

We’re often asked; “How do you deal with someone who is being stubborn and emotional?”. 

Stubbornness is a result of having, or thinking you have, a strong premise.  It's often not related to emotions at all, but to a lot of experience, and being very confident about the applicability of that experience.  If you experienced something 100 times, and the current situation appears to be the same as those hundred times, you’re likely to be very confident that this 101st time will have the same result.

Most of the time, stubbornness can be addressed by having a conversation with respect to how someone came to a conclusion about something.  By doing this, you’ll discover assumptions, observations, facts and experiences the person is using to come to a conclusion.  With this discovery, you’ll be able to have a fruitful conversation with respect to the applicability of those premise elements with the current situation.  It may be that their stubbornness is warranted and it is your conclusion that will change. 

However, stubbornness is sometimes based on another factor in the premise; Beliefs.  These are your values.   Sometimes your premise is strong, not due to your experience but your conviction relative to your values, and here is where is can get emotional.   For example, many people have a core value of being “fair”.  Sometimes they are stubborn about something because they don’t think something or someone is being fair.   Even though they might agree with you with respect to the facts and your experience, they say, “but it isn’t fair”, or “it’s not the right thing to do”.  Perhaps they say, “I agree with everything you say, and it makes perfect sense, but it’s just not fair”.

We all have values, and many are shared.  We use these values in every conclusion we make.  You won’t come to a conclusion about something that is inconsistent with your values.  So, even with the same information and experience, one person might say, “I think we should end this project now” and another might say “I think we should give it another try”.  The difference might merely be someone’s values with respect to giving people a second chance or not.

Some people believe (have a set of values) where they “Trust from the start”, while others have “Trust is earned”.  These values can lead to some passionate arguments (stubbornness). 

When  values are the main differentiator between agreement and non-agreement, such as in a “it’s not fair” situation, it’s time to have a discussion about what isn’t fair about the situation.  In many cases this discussion can pinpoint a particular instance or item that is “unfair”, and a fruitful discussion could result in a modified conclusion or agreement that addresses it with an exception.  Hint: Responding to someone who says, “but it isn’t fair” with “life isn’t fair” isn’t the best response.

When someone says, “It’s the principle of the thing”, they are expressing a belief, a value, that needs a conversation.  Understand what the principle that is being referred to is.  Ask why is it a principle, and what is so important about it?  Again, most of the time a critical thinking conversation can resolve this issue.  

Issues get resolved, not because people will change their values, but they are allowed to air and discuss them. Then,  given a specific set of circumstances, agreement and compromise can be reached even though it may not strictly conform to their values.

Note: If you have to continually have a values conversation with an employee then likely the person will either quit or be fired.   Similarly, if you continually have to have a values conversation with your spouse, divorce will most likely be in the horizon.

For a much more detailed read about the elements of a Premise (Facts, Observations, Experiences, Beliefs and Assumptions), check out "Think Smarter - Critical Thinking to Improve Problem-Solving and Decision-Making Skills",  chapters 15-21.

The Takeaway: We’re all stubborn sometimes.  So the next time you are, ask yourself if it’s a lot of experience that’s making you confident or a value that’s being violated resulting in you digging your heals in.  Understand why you are being stubborn and share that information.  Good conversations and results will come of it.
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