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Critical Thinking and Decision Making

Claire Belisle

Management 350

Paul Harvey

May 26, 2003

 


Critical Thinking and Decision Making

Through the exploration of critical thinking and decision-making, it becomes evident that the two are quite often linked.  While critical thinking can take place without the need to make a decision, one would think that making a decision should never take place without thinking critically about the decision that needs to be made.  On the other hand, there are times when it seems that decisions are made without any critical thinking involved.

What is Critical Thinking?

Through a review of the text, Readings in Critical Thinking, the reader will note that critical thinking is “a set of skills and attitudes [whereby an individual reacts] with systematic evaluation to what [he/she] has heard or read” (3).  The Little Brown Compact Handbook notes, “CRITICAL here does not mean ‘negative’ but ‘skeptical,’ ‘exacting,’ ‘creative’ ” (281).  Using this information, it can be determined that critical thinking is a process by which an individual evaluates information being heard or read to determine the validity of the information and any other issues that may be imbedded in the information. 

Readings in Critical Thinking recommends evaluation of information based on a set of questions as follows:

1.      What are the issues and the conclusions?

2.      What are the reasons?

3.      What words or phrases are ambiguous?

4.      What are the value conflicts and assumptions?

5.      What are the descriptive assumptions?

6.      Are there any fallacies in the reasoning?

7.      How good is the evidence?

8.      Are there rival causes?

9.      Are the statistics deceptive?

10.  What significant information is omitted?

11.  What reasonable conclusions are possible? (11)

 

While it is not necessary to directly use these questions when evaluating information, they are helpful in learning the process of critical thinking and as a guideline when evaluating information related to a particularly difficult problem or decision that needs to be made.

What is Decision Making?

Further exploration of Readings in Critical Thinking, shows that decision-making is a process through which “the decision maker [comes] up with a solution [to] a recognized and defined problem” (73).  Miriam Webster Online (http://www.m-w.com) defines a decision as “a determination arrived at after consideration.”  Using these definitions, it can be determined that decision-making is the act of evaluating information in order to reach a conclusion to a problem.

How do Critical Thinking and Decision Making Relate to Each Other?

Through a review of the definitions of critical thinking and decision-making, it can be determined that those making decisions must use critical thinking to determine the best solution for a problem.  Without critical thinking, details of a situation can be missed and the best solution may be bypassed.  For example, as an individual is driving his/her car, the driver must be aware of his/her surroundings in order to maintain proper control of the car.  As the individual proceeds, the vehicle in front may suddenly come to a stop.  If the driver is aware, he/she must make a quick decision, especially if he/she is following too closely.  By maintaining an awareness of his/her surroundings through critical thinking, the driver may know that the next lane is empty, thereby making it available for a quick lane change in order to avoid an accident.  Without this evaluation of his/her surroundings, the driver would not know of the availability of the lane, nor might he/she even realize that the car in front stopped, thereby causing an accident.

Another example would be in determining the best applicant for an available position.  The first step is to properly evaluate the requirements for the position.  Asking a series of questions regarding the position will aid in the determination of the types of qualifications the applicant needs.  Through an evaluation of the needs of the position as they relate to the qualification of the applicants, the person trying to fill the position should be able to determine the best applicant.  Also, the person trying to fill the position should ask the applicant a series of questions to determine if “significant information is omitted” (Readings in Critical Thinking, 11) or anything else that may pertain to the position being filled.

As stated previously, critical thinking is not something that must necessarily take place only when making a decision.  Each day, individuals must process a great deal of information and the individual does not consciously evaluate each piece of information being stored (Readings in Critical Thinking, 84).  When an individual encounters information that is relative to an issue, the individual may decide that the information has relevance, but may store it for later use.  Also, one may evaluate information for its validity without actually needing the information to make a decision at that time.

For example, a person who is attending a seminary may study various religions as a way of giving him/her a more comprehensive view of society.  The student may not need this information to determine the validity of his/her own beliefs, but may evaluate it anyway.  He/she may encounter situations that require him/her to ask “Why does this person believe this?” or “Why does someone believe something totally different from me?” yet it does not require him/her to make a decision as to his own person beliefs.

Further, there are times when it seems that no thinking was involved at all in a decision.  In these cases, the decisions were often made using a series of reasons that were not questioned.  Also, there are times when what seems to be an acceptable decision to one person, may not be for another.  For example, through information gained via personal interview with the owner of a General Motors vehicle, every vehicle made by General Motors since the 1970s with cruise control has the cruise control on the turn signal shaft.  To further complicate the issue, the windshield wiper controls are also on the same shaft.  To one person, this decision seems logical and acceptable, because all the controls are in one location.  To another, it is illogical because the cruise control moves location each time the windshield wipers are turned on.  Additionally, when turning on the windshield wipers, the cruise control can be bumped, changing the setting.  The decisions involved in making the final decision of placing all the controls in one location appear to have involved no critical thinking to some, while in fact it involved a series of decisions. 

What are the benefits of Critical Thinking?

Critical thinking provides an individual with the opportunity to “make a choice about how [he/she] will react to what [he/she] see[s] and hear[s]” (Readings in Critical Thinking, 3) and aids in determining “why things happen… or what [our individual] experiences mean” (The Little Brown Compact Handbook, 281).  If an individual fails to question and evaluate what he/she experiences, he/she will be “making someone else’s opinion [his/her] own” (Readings in Critical Thinking, 3).  By questioning the beliefs of others and reviewing one’s own actions, an individual may find that something believed since childhood may not be relevant to current circumstances.  Also, since there are so many conflicting beliefs, individuals must evaluate those beliefs in order to determine if a particular belief is in accordance with his/her own values.

How are these processes present or absent within my work?

Within my work on this paper, I have had to use critical thinking and decision-making in various ways.  As The Little Brown Compact Handbook States, “critical thinking is also an important skill for conducting research” (281).  I have used critical thinking to evaluate the information from the text and other sources to determine their validity and the relevance they might have to this paper.  I have also used critical thinking to determine what my own thoughts on the subject are and how to present them within this essay.  Through both of these critical thinking processes, there were decisions to be made that were relevant to the outcome of this paper.

Within my work for my job, critical thinking and decision making also aid me on a daily basis.  Prioritizing tasks each day requires me to evaluate each task for its importance.  As individuals within the department or company come to me with problems, I must evaluate the validity of the problem and any unspoken issues surrounding the problem.  I must also ask the individual presenting the problem, and any other pertinent individuals, relevant questions that will aid me in making a decision as to how to handle the problem.  Sometimes, there may even be research involved in determining the best solution, at which point I must evaluate the source of that outside information.

 Conclusion

As can be seen, critical thinking and decision-making are often intertwined within daily life and work.  While it is not necessary for a decision to be involved when there is critical thinking, quite often, critical thinking must be involved to make a decision, even if the thinking involved is flawed or incomplete.


References

Aaron, J.E.  (2001).  The Little Brown Compact Handbook.  (Rev. custom 4th ed., University of Phoenix).  Boston:  Pearson Custom Publishing.

University of Phoenix. (Ed.).  (2003).  Readings in Critical Thinking [University of Phoenix Custom Edition].  Boston:  Pearson Custom Publishing.

 

 

 

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