Use these tips to walk into any situation with the tools needed to set aside intense emotions and make insightful decisions.
Do you react to situations based on your emotions or personal biases? Are you looking for ways to improve communication and the flow of ideas with those around you? There are skills that have the capability to greatly improve your capacity to make objective, effective choices and arguments, and those are critical thinking skills. Without these skills, arguments can often be one-sided. Criticism can feel like a personal attack on your character rather than an opportunity to open up dialogue and communicate productively.
Related: 8 Ways to Master the Art of Communication
Let’s take a look at how to develop critical thinking skills so that you can walk into any situation with the tools needed to set intense emotions aside and make insightful decisions.
1. Become a self-critic.
The very first and most important step for developing critical thinking skills is becoming a critic of your own thoughts and actions. Without self-reflection, there can’t be growth. You can break down your own thoughts by asking yourself why you believe something. When you do this, you need to clarify your thoughts by assessing this information objectively and finding a solid logic to what you believe, rather than just a muddled idea. Why do I believe this? Can I think of examples in my life when this proved true or false? Am I attached to this idea emotionally? Why? When we self-reflect, we are able to observe how we respond to a situation, in our minds and out loud.
Another aspect of becoming a self-critic is acknowledging your strengths, weaknesses, personal preferences and biases. When you know this information, you can understand why you approach certain situations from a specific perspective, and then you can step around that viewpoint because you are aware of its presence.
2. Active listening.
Thinking and listening are nearly impossible to do at the same time. To become a critical thinker, you need to be able to listen to others’ ideas, arguments and criticisms without thinking of your response or reaction while they are speaking. You can’t properly absorb the information someone is trying to convey to you if you don’t take the time to truly listen. Listening allows us to feel empathy. We hear someone else’s story, struggles, ideas, successes and passions, and how they reached them. When we hear their perspective, we can take that information and analyze it. When we use active listening skills, we can fully understand what someone is trying to tell us because that conversation continues until all parties can reiterate what the other is trying to say.
3. Analyzing information.
Analyzing information is paramount for critical thinking. No one thinks critically at all times. Sometimes our joy, anger, sadness or other emotions are too great, and other times we struggle to focus on the central issue at hand. To reach success, we need to analyze the information before us, whether it is information in our mind or being shared by others. We can break it down by assessing what is being said, and ensuring that we clearly understand what it is that needs to happen. Then we can dissect and appraise all arguments, including our own, and think about how the decisions would impact others, as well as the bottom line. When we can step back and analyze an argument, it allows us to approach it from an objective viewpoint.
4. Nonviolent communication.
Critical thinking isn’t much help if you can’t communicate in a nonviolent, productive way. When listening and analyzing different arguments, you first need the ability to recognize valid logic. Then you need to be able to communicate with other people in a productive way. The basis of nonviolent communication is compassion, observation and collaboration. When we approach any scenario with compassion, we are already in a peaceful mindset, rather than a defensive one. When we observe, we can observe our arguments and others without judgment and evaluation. We can detach our emotions from an idea. He doesn’t like my idea, so he must not like me. And collaboration naturally happens when everyone comes into the process with a compassionate, open mind, with the focus on solving the objective at hand rather than protecting anyone’s ego.
5. Developing foresight.
The ability to predict the future impact of a decision is foresight. Foresight is a critical component for success in all aspects of your life. When you move somewhere, you plan ahead to see what the job outlook is and the safety of a neighborhood. If you are moving a business, it is wise to examine the impact of that decision. Will it be too far for some of your talented employees to drive? Will you lose business because of the change? What will you gain? Every decision should be weighed carefully, with consideration of how the choice affects your bottom line, but also for the people who are working toward success alongside you.
Critical thinking requires the ability to reflect on one’s own beliefs, as well as someone else’s ideas, and then see the connections between those things. It requires the ability to actively listen to others, to assess, dissect and appraise arguments, and to separate intense emotions from the topic at hand.
Related:10 Ways Successful People Make Smart Decisions
|A Wake-up Call for Fatigued FedEx Fliers|
(Max duty times in hours + minutes)
Does a better way exist?
One of the projects that I undertook while a member of the PSIT (Pilot Scheduling Improvement Team) was to research other carriers engaged in international flying to find out how their pilots were scheduled. To my surprise, I found fewer differences in the area of work rules between our operation and other U.S. carriers (Northwest, United, American, Delta) than I had expected. What I did find was a huge difference in the type of flying that we were doing compared to the other U.S. carriers.
Because the other carriers (save Northwest) fly the bulk of their international trips from the United States directly to their destinations, lay over for an average of 30 hours, then fly back to the United States, their crews would "time out" (maximize block flying to equal pay cap) after flying as few as three roundtrips (9 to 12 workdays) per month. Compare this to FedEx’s international operation in Asia, which, at present, requires our pilots to fly to the international destination and, thereafter, fly through a hub-and-spoke system for a number of days before returning home. Obviously, FedEx pilots’ exposure to circadian disruption is far greater than that of our counterparts elsewhere due to this major difference in type of flying. This is further exacerbated by our lack of a pay/credit hour cap, which has contributed to an ever-increasing number of days worked (hence, greater exposure to the effects of circadian disruption) in any given bid period. Adopting another U.S. carrier’s international work rules would not adequately address our concerns because of these differences.
Not until I expanded the search to carriers from other countries did I hit "pay dirt." After speaking to members of the Hong Kong Pilots Association, I learned of a document entitled "CAD 371: The Avoidance of Fatigue in Aircrews," which is an official document of the Civil Aviation Department (CAD) of Hong Kong. The CAD is analogous to our FAA and establishes regulations as they pertain to (among other things) aircrew flight time/duty time. This regulation has it roots in findings of the NASA sleep study conducted on "long haul" operations. To me, it represents a big leap forward in finally incorporating human-factors concerns into a reasonable set of guidelines.
CAD 371 states clearly, "This document contains standard provisions on which Hong Kong operators’ ‘Approved Flight Time Limitation Schemes’ are to be based from 1 March 1999." Like our FARs, CAD 371 is regulatory and represents minimal criteria for the Hong Kong air carriers (Cathay Pacific and DragonAir, the most notable) to follow. I have summarized some of the provisions of CAD 371 in Table A (page 25).
Factors to be considered when constructing crew rosters (schedules) should include
• the undesirability of alternating day/night duties,
• no scheduled rest periods of between 18 and 30 hours,
• the effects of consecutive flights through, or ending within, the window of circadian low,
• the effect of consecutive transmeridian flights, and
• notification of crews well in advance of days off.
Assumptions used in developing the scheduling constraints include the following:
• The body clock moves at 1 hour per day when its circadian rhythm is disrupted.
• The body clock moves at 1 hour per day when it resynchronizes to local time.
• Maximum circadian disruption (12 hours) requires seven nights’ recovery.
Definitions (Cathay Pacific—Operations Manual Volume 1, Appendix D)
Acclimatized—To be acclimatized, a flightcrew member must have three consecutive local nights free of duty within a time zone band that is 3 hours wide. The flight-crew member will remain acclimatized thereafter until a duty period finishes at a place where local time differs by more than 3 hours from that at the point of departure.
Local Night—A period of 8 hours falling between 2200 hours and 0800 hours local time.
Limitations on single-flying duty periods
To apply this to FedEx’s flight operations, a pilot who started out at home base and had a minimum of three consecutive local nights off before the start of the next flight would be acclimatized. The only other scenario would be, after having arrived at a given destination, our pilot(s) would have to lay over such that they would have three consecutive local nights off (roughly a 72-hour layover) before being considered acclimatized; they would then remain acclimatized as long as they stayed within 3 hours of that local time zone.
How does this compare to FedEx’s current international max scheduled duty period of 13+30? Hong Kong rules allow an extra half hour of duty time when duty starts between 0800 to 1259 local (one leg only), but in every other category, their max duty limits are less than FedEx’s. Applying this to our FedEx ANC-NRT-PVG example above (scheduled duty 13+30), this sequence would exceed the 13+15 duty limit and would not be permitted.
An unacclimatized crew is any crew who has not had three consecutive local nights off in the applicable time zone. This "non-acclimatized" state characterizes nearly all FedEx crews on international flights who have departed home base unless they have had a super-long layover (>72 hours). Please note that there is a built-in bias against the "dreaded 24-hour layover," which, no surprise to us, is a prime contributor to circadian disruption and was an important finding of the NASA study. This explains why the maximum duty times following layovers between 18 and 30 hours (in essence, 24 hours) are lower than those for layovers of less than 18 or more than 30 hours. Does this mean that anything less than or equal to 18 hours would be preferable to a 24-hour layover? The answer is (theoretically) yes, provided the pilot can get sleep within this shorter layover period. We have found this sleep stipulation to be somewhat problematic, as short layovers work only when the body is ready to sleep, and if it isn’t, it gets no other sleep opportunity (layovers of less than 18 hours afford only one sleep opportunity).
Sectors (Legs Flown)
Up to 18 or over 30
Between 18 and 30
(Max duty times in hours + minutes)
The point again is that every category in this non-acclimatized state restricts maximum duty time to something less than FedEx’s current limit of 13+30. How would this apply to some of our flying? The three-leg flight NRT-ICN-TPE-HKG with a scheduled duty of 11+44 following a 45+23 layover in NRT (prng #85 June 2002 ANC bidpack) would not be permitted, as it would exceed the maximum allowed duty time of 11+30. Another three-legger, KIX-NRT-TPE-HKG with a scheduled duty of 12+44 following a 21+05 layover in KIX (prng #53 June ’02 ANC bidpack), would also exceed the stated limit of 10+30 and could not be scheduled this way.
Please understand, I am not suggesting that we at FedEx adopt someone else’s work rules. I am suggesting that we can structure our work rules in a different way to account for circadian disruption and thereby minimize its ill effects on our health and performance. The knowledge is there and we have the technology; what is missing is the overwhelming desire of our entire pilot group to make such changes to our international work rules a priority in our next contract. We cannot rely on the FARs or, more importantly, the FAA’s "political rulemaking process," used in making changes, to provide any relief in this area.
Our flight operations now encompass what is probably the most extensive international route structure in the world. Shouldn’t our work rules reflect equally "leading edge" thinking as well? Only we can decide that.
This article is reprinted with permission from the FedEx MEC’s Positive Rate, January 2003.