Critical Thinking: Unpacking Our Biases

Recently, I was presenting to our Leadership Academy Class on the topic of critical thinking.  I thoroughly enjoy these discussions with up and coming leaders within our organization.

The discussion was rich and full of wonderful exchange.  I am always curious about happens when one takes a step back and truly assesses one’s own thinking. It is a fascinating process and it is a commitment to bringing a “beginner’s mind” to every situation.

One of the most compelling parts of the conversation was around the topic of bias.

We all carry biases and prejudices with us   They come from our upbringing, from our culture, from our education, and from our experiences. Many people think of bias and prejudice as a bad thing—something to be eliminated.  Not only do I think that is impossible, but I believe it misses the point.  We are not a blank slate—hopefully we have had a life of learning, of contemplation, of reflection that has formed a lens for how we see the world.

What is imperative is that we understand our biases and how they act as a filter, sorting the value of information and ideas according to our frame of reference. For the most part, people hate cognitive dissonance.  They reject information that does not align with their understanding of the world.  Once we know this about ourselves, this should open our eyes to the likelihood that if biases go unchecked, we might end up missing vital information. Critical thinkers are loathe to make decisions without vital information.

I shared with the class that while I have several very intentional approaches to informing my biases, one of my most effective is to ask many, many, strategic and pointed questions.  Anyone who has spent any time with me knows that when they present an idea to me, the time will be filled with answering questions.  This is because when I hear information, it naturally falls into my framework (fraught with missing information), and questions help me acquire a level of understanding that is required to make an informed decision.  This process is at the heart of my approach to critical thinking.

How do you assess your thinking? How are you at your own metacognition? What do you have yet to learn to help you think better about your thinking? As always, I welcome your thoughts and comments.