A typical problem-solving model has three stages. As I go through them, think about this scenario. A co-worker claims, “Joe resigned last week because of the changes in how the company schedules vacation.”
Step 1 - Identify the Issues
The first step in the critical thinking process is to ask yourself, “What is the real issue?” This sounds simple, but it is important to get it right. Remember, an issue can be a problem, a situation, a question, or just about anything else!
Tips to help identify the Issue.
- Write the issue as a yes or no question.
- Be unbiased and objective.
- Several heads are better than one. Review the issue statement with others to make sure that you have gotten to the core of the problem.
- If there is more than one issue, separate them so that you can focus on one thing at a time.
The Issue: Should the company renovate the vacation system?
Step 2 - Identify the Arguments
Next, you need to identify the arguments for and against something, as well as identify the evidence supporting each argument. Ask yourself, “Why does a person think that?” If a conclusion has already been made or reached, you will want to identify that as well.
Tips to help Identify the Arguments
- For: Statistics on the number of employee complaints.
- Against: Reports on the number of satisfied employees.
- One argument is yes, we should. The evidence we have is that there are several complaints about the system from the staff.
- On the “no” side, you could point out that no one has had time to get used to the system yet, and they’re just in the first phase of the change.
Stage 3 – Assess the Context
Now that you have a clear idea about the argument, evidence, and conclusions, let’s look at the environmental factors around them. What contextual elements could affect this argument? Perhaps the co-worker doesn’t care for the new vacation system. Or, perhaps, he wanted others to hear his position on the vacation scheduling.
To be wary of the context, here are the questions you will want to ask:
- Does the person presenting the argument have a purpose?
- Does the person have a personal agenda?
- Does the person have a connection with you that they are trying to change?
- Are they trying to eliminate a problem?
- How was the message sent?
- Were other people supposed to hear it?
- Were they attempting to distance themselves from the message? (For example, sending an e-mail rather than delivering it in person.)
- Are there any other factors? (The person’s status, recent changes at home or work, for example?)
With these questions, it’s easy to see how understanding the context of the comment affects the argument.If you’re having trouble identifying the context of a message, try imagining it coming from someone else or through a different medium.