Asking the Right Questions

“Intelligence is something we are born with. Thinking is a skill that must be learned.” – Edward De Bono

Cognitive skills are brain-based activities that involve thinking. They’re the mental processes we use to carry out tasks and function in the world. Critical thinking is a cognitive skill that involves rational thought: you are actively asking questions, making connections, looking for evidence, challenging assumptions and applying logic. The outcome of critical thinking is deciding what to do or believe.

Thinking critically is demanding; you aren’t just passively taking in information. You’re using various cognitive skills to work with information. For instance, the process of asking and answering questions pushes you away from impulsiveness and the consequences of knee-jerk reactions.

Imagine someone tells you that your new coworker is incompetent. Instead of just accepting this statement as fact and treating the coworker like he’s inept, as a critical thinker you would ask questions. What evidence is there? Does the person telling me this have a motive for saying this? Does this person have first-hand experience? Other than incompetence what else could explain the new coworker’s behavior?

One of the trickier requirements of critical thinking is the need to think about your own thinking, also called metacognition. When posing questions about a situation, you also have to question yourself. Do I have biases that are in play right now? Could I have made a mistake? Am I unwilling to change what I think about this?

In Vita’s Decisions programs we focus on the importance of asking questions as a way to engage critical thinking. Critical thinking that leads to better decision making allows you to take charge of your life and your future.