Have you ever been in a meeting with your manager and thought, “that doesn’t make sense” or “there’s probably a better way to do that”? What did you do?
Being an active participant/critical thinker is essential to a successful career. Contrary to what you might believe (or have been told), the people who always agree and always do exactly as they are told don’t often learn or become the ‘go to person.’ You must think for yourself, derive conclusions from data, and never be afraid to ask questions. It is the active participants who instead of sticking to the status quo, move organizations and the world forward. It is important to have an informed opinion and to share it. You are sitting around the table for a reason; make it worth your colleagues time by participating
Barriers to active participation:
There are many factors that keep us from being an active contributor even if we are capable of doing so. Three of the biggest factors are:
Trusting without question: If someone started to explain the details of quantum physics to you, you’d likely believe what they were telling you. You probably wouldn’t stop to tell them that they’ve really gotten the theories wrong. The same applies to the office. When you are working with a person who is a known expert, or even just someone who knows more about a particular topic then you, you’re more likely to accept what they say. I challenge you to be informed so that you can absorb what they say, apply it, analyze, and determine if it is the best path forward or applicable to a situation. If it isn’t, speak up with a sound explanation.
Risk of retaliation: As with the scenario that introduced this post, sometimes the idea in question has been proposed by a manager. In this case, you may worry that questioning it or suggesting an alternative might not serve you well in your career, especially at the annual review time. While I don’t recommend you outright tell your boss they are wrong, I do suggest that you offer an alternative approach, founded on fact, for discussion. If you are uncomfortable bringing it up directly in the meeting, grab your manager after the meeting and discuss it one on one.
You don’t know what you don’t know: Whether your lack of knowledge on a particular topic is by choice or not, the impact is the same. Simply, you can’t make an educated decision or ask an imperative question on a topic you haven’t taken the time to understand.
How to participate – think critically
The good news is that you have the power to remove each of these barriers. In response to a study by Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) that found a significant deficiency of critical thinking in the workplace, Pearson developed the “RED Model” to break down how critical thinking works. There are other models and suggestions out there, but all are focused on the same core ideas. The key components of the RED Model are:
Recognize Assumptions: Whether it’s your own assumptions or the assumptions that others are making, these can often lead to mistakes, inefficiencies, or unintended consequences. Even though something may seem logical, it doesn’t mean it is factual.
Evaluate Arguments: Is the argument based on facts? Is it well thought out? Are there better alternatives? Evaluating an argument is about asking the hard questions.
Draw Conclusions: By taking the time to analyze, understand, and discuss the topic at hand, you can draw better conclusions. Think of this is as the last step in problem solving process – compile the information you have gathered together and make the best decision.
One of the best things employees can do for their employers/managers is to think of ways to do things better. Don’t be afraid to speak up and share your ideas, but when you do, be ready to back them up with critical thinking.