The why and how of critical thinking in PR

Critical thinking is an important skill for anyone.

It’s something we like to see on CVs and LinkedIn profiles. It’s something we like to think we’re skilled in.

Employers seem to be keen on hiring critical thinkers. But do they use them?

Critical thinking is more of a science than an art. It takes the creative ideas we have and dissects them, asking if it will thrive or die in the world outside the brainstorm.

We may hate critical thinking, but we also need it to ensure that our efforts aren’t wasted executing a brilliant idea that delivers no results.

What is critical thinking?

There’s nothing earth-shatteringly revolutionary about critical thinking. It’s not, in any way, new.

Critical thinking is a skill set we can use to analyse a problem or question  and come to a conclusion.

Dr Peter Facione, who refers to critical thinking as ‘purposeful reflective judgement’, says it’s comprised of six skills:

  • Interpretation – the ability to understand what the core issues are, to understand multiple perspectives and explain them to others.
  • Analysis – being able to deconstruct ideas to see how people reached certain conclusions. Understanding and examining the unspoken reasons why conclusions were reached.
  • Evaluation – the ability to assess the credibility of the arguments. Are they founded on logical or subjective reasoning? How does that impact the conclusion?
  • Inference – using the data presented to develop solutions of your own. While also identifying what missing information you need to formulate that conclusion.
  • Explanation – the ability to present your ideas in a way that specific people, or audiences of people, can understand.
  • Self-regulation – understanding your limitations and abilities enough to defer to others when needed.

Why critical thinking is important in PR

While coming up with creative ideas can be difficult, it’s often harder to take that idea and analyse it to death. “We should [insert giant, mad, sure to get coverage thing here]” is fun to think about until someone on the team says, “that’s great, but…”

Critical thinking is an essential part of success, but people often see it in a negative light – especially by more creative people. Here you are, having this amazing idea, and Debby Downer comes along asking all of these annoying questions.

  • Who are we trying to reach with this article?
  • What’s the point that the client wants to convey here?
  • Where’s the evidence to substantiate your argument?
  • Why is this an issue the audience would care about? Is there evidence that they care about this question, or is this based on assumption?
  • How can the client help solve the problem?

What do we need to practise critical thinking?

It’s fashionable to put “excellent critical thinking skills” on your LinkedIn profile, but do you have them, or is it just something you should be putting on your LinkedIn profile?

Critical thinking is a skill that we need to practise.

Self-awareness is vital

We need to train ourselves to be more self-aware. What are our strengths and weaknesses? How do these mesh with those of the rest of the team?

Are we honest about how we feel and how much mental and physical energy we have every day? There are some days when you just have no idea how you’ll write that blog post, and others when you hardly need to think about it at all. How can you be expected to practise critical thinking when it’s taking all of your resolve not to click on “top puppy gift compilation no.87” on YouTube?

Developing a team that trusts

Even if you are aware of your weaknesses, you’re not going to ask anyone else for help with a problem if you don’t trust them or respect their opinion and experience.

Give yourself the time, space and permission to think

You’re probably very busy, working in a team of very busy people and have a boss who – you’ve guessed it – is very, very busy.

But we’re not all Sherlock Holmes. Not all of us can pull perfect conclusions out of thin air at demand. We need the time and space to think.

We don’t always allow ourselves this time and space. We can also have issues with having unrealistic expectations for ourselves (for example, if someone asks you a question on a conference call it’s fine to say “I’ll get back to you on that” and think the answer through).

Critical thinking is a skill that we can, and should, all nurture. However, employers need to encourage us to think critically.

Sometimes this means casting a critical eye over a popular new product idea.

Occasionally it’ll mean having the confidence to express doubt when everyone else in the room agrees.

But we shouldn’t dismiss these thoughts just because they seem negative. Doing so is one of the best ways to stunt critical thinking and end up with work that may be interesting, but which doesn’t deliver the results that clients, managers and ourselves demand.

Picture credit: Elijah Hiett

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