5 Barriers to Critical Thinking for Problem Solving

Critical thinking is being able to think clearly, rationally, and logically, understand connections between ideas, and engage in reflective and independent thinking.[1] It’s the key to problem solving.

Critical thinking skills are one of the more desired skills in schools and workplaces. However, they aren’t taught in schools, leaving people to find their way to critical thinking on their own. Unfortunately, this can allow the barriers to critical thinking to run unchecked. By identifying and challenging these barriers, you can develop critical thinking skills for problem solving.

Ego Thinking can be the first barrier to problem solving

Ego thinking is when you view everything in relation to yourself. [2] It’s a natural human tendency because we are the center of our human experience. Therefore it takes effort and awareness to stretch our experience out from just ourselves. However, thinking like this leads to difficulty empathizing with others. Also with analyzing and evaluating various perspectives, and seeing things that exist outside the sphere of personal influence.

The catch-22 with this barrier is that because most egocentric people aren’t willing or able to see this character flaw, they can’t move past it. The way past this barrier is to engage in empathy, asking smart questions about the attitudes, perspectives, thoughts, and opinions of others and putting themselves in others’ shoes. [3]

Authoritative Thinking

Although we are taught in our society to trust authority figures, this can be a barrier to critical thinking. People in authority can still be wrong, and blindly trusting everything they say can lead to missed information, opportunities, and logical fallacies derailing the entire critical thinking process.

Authority can be a person, peer group, institution, or anything that holds a perceived superior position. A classic example of an authority figure that leverages authoritative thinking against people is politicians who sway people by promising or saying something only for it to be proven a lie later. Even then, authority figures can still be wrong sometimes through no intent of their own; it’s still important to be sure that what they claim is true is correct.

To surmount this barrier, do your own fact-checking. Research and ask questions instead of simply taking it for granted that an authority figure is correct.

Black and White Thinking

Seeing everything in extremes and being unable or unwilling to perceive the shades of grey in between is a limiting perspective that shrinks your field of vision and potential solutions. With this way of thinking, people ignore the complexities in favor of a single solution that they can put in a category with a label.

Black-and-white thinking is a natural byproduct of our need for certainty, but assuming that everything is only a certain way is false logic. To get past this barrier, work to consider all the nuances and individual pieces of a problem.

Social Thinking

Also called drone or group thinking, social thinking is when individuals conform to the beliefs of others to avoid appearing different or receiving ostracization. [4] While this is another by-product of normal human desires and tendencies, having a group of people all thinking the same stifles creativity and critical thinking.

Thinking within the context of other people’s thinking (such as your spouse, companions, parents, or friends) makes thinking outside the box nearly impossible. To move past social thinking, acknowledge your individuality and that the group may not be correct.

Judgmental Thinking

Judgemental thinking is laying assumptions, morals, and labels on something or someone based on our past experiences, morals, and beliefs. This is limiting thinking because it’s usually non-rational, blocking understanding and insight. Taking the time to examine and challenge our biases will help us move past judgmental thinking.

Break the Barriers to help with Problem Solving

These barriers to critical thinking are not permanent barriers. They can be brought down through conscious decision-making and logic. Moreover, the very act of working past these barriers will strengthen your critical thinking skills. For more tips and tricks in the ways in how to foster critical thinking skills, visit our blog.

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