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Rushing Through Conflict – Slow Down with Critical Thinking

the concept of the functioning of the human body and the brainConflicts are an inevitable part of any social interaction. Regardless of the situation or parties involved, conflicts that are not managed constructively can be damaging. One valuable strategy that helps resolve conflicts more efficiently is critical thinking. By looking at a conflict objectively and analyzing the situation from an outside perspective, an individual can essentially remove themselves from the conflict in order to gain a better understanding of it. Critical thinking also allows for an individual to look at the conflict from different angles for a more complete image. While critical thinking does support conflict resolution, there are notable interferences that can impact it effectiveness. In Asking the Right Questions: A Guide to Critical Thinking, M. Neil Browne and Stuart M. Keeley call these various interferences “speed bumps” because they exist regardless of you knowing about them. Even when you are mindful of these interferences they continue to impact your critical thinking resulting in less than effective results. Below are some examples of these speed bumps.

The first “speed bump” discussed in their book is the discomfort of asking the right questions. Browne and Keely stress the importance of knowing that not everyone is comfortable being asked critical questions especially if it challenges their arguments or beliefs. While asking certain questions can help individuals understand the views of others, being too persistent or aggressive with the questioning can be offensive to some and might even lead to damaged relationships. The individual that is being questioned can feel threatened or uncomfortable since they might not be used to having their views directly challenged. The next important “speed bump” to pay attention to is thinking too quickly. The book briefly addresses the concept of “fast thinking”, which focuses on speedy and instinctive decision making. When an individual is “fast thinking” they make rash decisions that might have negative consequences. On the other hand, “slow thinking” relies more on making accurate and evaluative judgments. In order to understand another person’s perspective and the conflict overall, “slow thinking” is a valuable skill to evaluate the information being presented by the other side in order to make effective decisions. Stereotypes are another “speed bump” that prevents functional critical thinking. They are dangerous because they come into play before an individual has even approached a situation. By assigning perceived characteristics to various identities, one joins a conflict with preliminary views. Stereotypes are detrimental to resolving conflicts because these biases alter rational judgment and reasoning

Browne and Keeley identified mental habits as other aspects that hinder the performance of critical thinking. These habits blur reality and can influence judgments greatly. It is important to be aware of them in order to prevent them from occurring. The first habit discussed in the book is called the halo effect. This mental habit occurs when an individual identifies a positive or negative characteristic about another person and then concludes that all their traits are either positive or negative. An example of this is if someone were to assume that a successful banker was equally successful in all other aspects of life. Another example of the halo effect would be to assume that someone who has committed a petty crime in the past is negative in all other aspects of their life as well. This mental habit is dangerous because it can distort the other party’s image, assign a broad “good” or “bad” status to a person and ultimately affect conflict resolution. A further mental “speed bump” discussed in the book is wishful thinking. This deals with the interweaving of what one wishes to be true and what is actually declared as truth. This becomes really dangerous when one forces facts to fit to beliefs instead of fitting beliefs to facts. For example, you feel strongly that a friend has taken something from you, but you do not have any evidence. If you convince yourself enough that he took something, you will actually start believing it as truth. Browne and Keeley state that “once we recognize this tendency in ourselves, we need to keep asking, is that true because I want it to be true, or is there convincing evidence that it’s true?” (Browne and Keeley, page 20) This aspect can be emphasized by the common expression “I just know”. Even with lacking evidence, many individuals are able to create truths out of their beliefs, which is detrimental to resolving conflicts. Critical thinking is an effective tool to analyze and resolve conflicts. Regardless of experience, critical thinking “speed bumps” are present in all individuals and play a role in our conclusions. While they cannot always be ignored, these “speed bumps” can be acknowledged and managed for successful conflict resolution to occur.


John Wagner

Student Intern

Salisbury University – Conflict Analysis and Dispute Resolution


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