Blog Post: Clarify Your Thinking

Linda Elder
Mar 24, 2021 • 22d ago
Clarify Your Thinking

{"ops":[{"insert":"Our own thinking usually seems clear to us, even when it is not. Vague, ambiguous, muddled, deceptive, or misleading thinking are significant problems in human life. If you are to develop as a thinker, you must learn the art of clarifying your thinking—of pinning it down, spelling it out, and giving it a specific meaning. Here’s what you can do to begin. When people explain things to you, summarize in your own words what you think they said. When you cannot do this to their satisfaction, you don’t truly understand what they said. When they cannot summarize to your satisfaction what you have said, they don’t truly understand what you said. Try it. See what happens.\n \n"},{"attributes":{"bold":true},"insert":"As you work to clarify your thinking, be on the lookout for…"},{"insert":"\n…vague, fuzzy, blurred thinking—thinking that may sound good but"},{"attributes":{"indent":1},"insert":"\n"},{"insert":"doesn’t actually say anything. Try to figure out the real meaning of"},{"attributes":{"indent":1},"insert":"\n"},{"insert":"what people are saying. Compare what people say with what they"},{"attributes":{"indent":1},"insert":"\n"},{"insert":"might really mean. Try to figure out the real meaning of important"},{"attributes":{"indent":1},"insert":"\n"},{"insert":"news stories. Explain your understanding of an issue to someone else"},{"attributes":{"indent":1},"insert":"\n"},{"insert":"to help clarify it in your own mind. Practice summarizing in your own"},{"attributes":{"indent":1},"insert":"\n"},{"insert":"words what others say. Then ask them if you understood them correctly."},{"attributes":{"indent":1},"insert":"\n"},{"insert":"Be careful to neither agree nor disagree with what anyone says"},{"attributes":{"indent":1},"insert":"\n"},{"insert":"until you (clearly) understand what he or she is saying."},{"attributes":{"indent":1},"insert":"\n"},{"insert":" \n"},{"attributes":{"bold":true},"insert":"Strategies for clarifying your thinking:"},{"insert":"\nTo improve your ability to clarify your thinking (in your own mind, when speaking to others, or when writing, for example), use this basic strategy:\n• State one point at a time."},{"attributes":{"indent":1},"insert":"\n"},{"insert":"• Elaborate on what you mean."},{"attributes":{"indent":1},"insert":"\n"},{"insert":"• Give examples that connect your thoughts to life experiences."},{"attributes":{"indent":1},"insert":"\n"},{"insert":"• Use analogies and metaphors to help people connect your ideas to a variety of things they already understand. (Consider this analogy: Critical thinking is like an onion. It has many layers. Just when you think you have it basically figured out, you realize there is another layer, and then another, and another, and another, and on and on.)"},{"attributes":{"indent":1},"insert":"\n"},{"insert":" \n"},{"attributes":{"bold":true},"insert":"Here is a format you can use to make sure you are clear when speaking or writing your thoughts:"},{"insert":"\n• I think (state your main point)"},{"attributes":{"indent":1},"insert":"\n"},{"insert":"• In other words (elaborate on your main point)"},{"attributes":{"indent":1},"insert":"\n"},{"insert":"• For example (give an example of your main point)"},{"attributes":{"indent":1},"insert":"\n"},{"insert":"• To give you an analogy (give an illustration of your main point)"},{"attributes":{"indent":1},"insert":"\n"},{"insert":" \n"},{"attributes":{"bold":true},"insert":"To clarify other people’s thinking, you might ask any of the following questions:"},{"insert":"\n• Can you restate your point in other words? I didn’t understand you."},{"attributes":{"indent":1},"insert":"\n"},{"insert":"• Can you give an example?"},{"attributes":{"indent":1},"insert":"\n"},{"insert":"• Let me tell you what I understand you to be saying. Do I understand you correctly?"},{"attributes":{"indent":1},"insert":"\n"},{"insert":" \nAs you begin to use these strategies, as basic as they seem, note how seldom others use them. Begin to notice how often people assume that others understand them when what they have said is, in fact, unintelligible, muddy, or confusing. Note how, very often, the simple intellectual moves are the most powerful. (For example, saying to someone: “I don’t understand what you are saying. Can you say that in other words?”) Focus on using these basic, foundational moves whenever it seems at all relevant to do so. As you do, you will find that your thinking becomes clearer and clearer, and you get better and\nbetter at clarifying others’ thinking.\n \nThe idea of clarifying thinking is almost so easy it is hard. It is like watching the ball while playing tennis. It is easy to deceive ourselves into thinking we are doing it when we are not. The difference is that in tennis we get immediate feedback that tells us when we were not watching the ball (when, for instance, the ball doesn’t go over the net). In thinking, we do not have this same luxury of instant feedback.\n\nSo, we can remain self-deceived much of the time.\n \n[This blog piece was adapted from "},{"attributes":{"italic":true},"insert":"30 Days to Better Thinking and Better Living"},{"insert":" by Linda Elder and Richard Paul, 2013, Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Education, pp. 67-69].\n"}]}


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