An argument for the notion that critical thinking is overrated
Fans of Sheldon Cooper on the syndicated comedy series “The Big Bang Theory” might be inclined to agree with the argument that critical thinking is overrated. Sheldon is the quintessential critical thinker, but is completely lacking in social skills, empathy, and tact.
When it comes to matters of heart and his romance with Amy, he is totally hopeless and hapless at saying or doing anything that requires using normal emotional responses. Sheldon has the ability to painstakingly analyze, develop, and provide evidence for his ideas and theories, but he is completely lacking in social skills, and–in what we will cover in detail below–emotional intelligence.
What are some disadvantages of critical thinking?
Fact gathering, analysis, and the belief that emotion has no place in critical thinking can lead to “analysis paralysis,” when intuition and experience can work faster and better. Rigid critical thinkers frequently:
- consider both the positive and negative sides of everything
- are more prone to think negatively than positively—hence, the term “critical”
- often suffer from depression, OCD, or anxiety when their critical thinking habits don’t produce desired results
- tend towards perfectionism, when excellence will suffice
- are hypercritical of themselves and others
- avoid any decision that has an emotional element whatsoever
Critical thinkers need to develop emotional intelligence
There is a middle ground and a hybrid form of critical thinking where emotions can be factored into critical thinking. Emotional intelligence according to Psychology Today is “the ability to identify and manage one’s own emotions, as well as the emotions of others.”
Emotional intelligence includes the “ability to identify and name one’s own emotions” and apply those emotions to clear thinking and problem solving. Emotional intelligence also includes the ability to manage and regulate emotions and apply them to tasks that include critical thinking and problem solving.
For people in leadership positions, emotional intelligence is an essential element of problem solving. Having emotional intelligence is likewise an essential ingredient to successfully managing people.
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Elements of emotional intelligence
Daniel Goldman, Ph.D., the author of the New York Times bestseller Emotional Intelligence and Social intelligence: The New Science of Human Relationships, describes the five key elements to emotional intelligence:
1. Practicing self-awareness: Knowing how you feel and how your emotions and actions can affect those around you. This means having a clear understanding of your weaknesses and strengths.
Self-aware leaders and team members spend a few minutes each day keeping a journal. They are slow to display anger and rarely give in to strong emotions. They know that, no matter what the situation, they can always choose how to react.
2. Staying in control through self-regulation: This is the ability to avoid stereotyping others, engaging in personal attacks, or making rushed emotional decisions.
Emotionally intelligent people have a solid foundation of values and a code of ethics. They hold themselves accountable and admit and learn from their mistakes. Their stress-relieving practices involve deep-breathing to restore personal calm and often writing down their negative feelings on a sheet of paper, ripping it up, and throwing it away.
3. Being self-motivated: Emotionally intelligent people are relentlessly dedicated to reaching their goals. They have high personal standards of their own and their group’s quality of work.
Self-motivated people constantly re-examine what they really love about their career. They can always see something positive in any bad situation—if only a lesson learned for future reference.
4. Walking a mile in the other person’s shoes: Having empathy is another key element of emotional intelligence. This involves a dedication to developing the people on their team, giving constructive feedback, challenging those who are acting unfairly, and always listening to those who ask for help.
Empathetic people take time to look at situations from the perspective of others—even if their opinions and attitudes don’t seem to make good sense. That involves active listening and being sensitive to the feelings and emotions of others.
5. Having social skills: Social skills—successfully dealing with people with a variety of backgrounds, etc.—are what make a leader and team member great communicators. Their excitement and enthusiasm are infectious, and they set the ideal example for hard work and dedication.
Good social skills include conflict resolution, improving communication skills, and getting into the habit of praising others when the praise is earned.
Employers, however, do not think that critical thinking is overrated
The bottom line is that critical thinking is a necessary skill for almost every job. Employees who can analyze evidence, question and test assumptions and hypotheses and draw conclusions from a variety of data inputs are widely sought after.
According to the National Association of Colleges and Employers, employers who responded to their survey “rated critical thinking/problem solving as the most essential competency among new hires.”
Critical thinking/problem solving was rated 4.62 on a scale of 5. Teamwork/collaboration and professionalism/work ethic ranked just below with scores of 4.56 and 4.46, respectively.
The hybrid combination of critical thinking and emotional intelligence
So, while critical thinking is mainly a rational process, humans can never be 100% rational. To be completely rational would require abandoning our humanity, empathy and ethics.
Part of the process in communicating with others is recognizing that sometimes critical thinking is overrated and can be emotionally challenging. Expressions of emotion must be listened to. They can be evidence of deeper problems and require flexibility and openness to authentic expressions of others.
- Dr. Sheldon Cooper, the brilliant, but socially challenged character in The Big Bang Theory, is a classic example of how critical thinking can be overrated.
- There are some disadvantages to critical thinking. They include overthinking, emphasizing the negative, and perfectionism.
- Critical thinking often includes a rigid avoidance of emotion. However, emotional intelligence can be combined with critical thinking for better communication and problem solving.
- Elements of emotional intelligence are self-awareness, self-regulation, self-motivation, empathy, and social skills.
- Nevertheless, employers place a premium on critical thinking skills. Combining critical thinking skills with emotional intelligence is a hybrid solution to problem solving and communication requiring a human touch.
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