How to Improve Your Critical Thinking Skills

We live in a world full of information. Every day we are showered with hundreds of messages and ideas about a variety of issues, coming from our computers, our TVs, our phones, street advertising, or the people we talk to.

Unfortunately, many of these messages are not exactly accurate, and buying into them can be highly detrimental to us. This is where critical thinking skills come in, as a set of skills that enables us to correctly and logically asses the ideas we are exposed to, develop our own opinions and make decisions.

Not only that critical thinking skills help us possess accurate ideas, but by doing so, they also permit us to develop powerful arguments and counterarguments in our discussions with others, thus making us much more persuasive. They’re both a mental and a communication asset.

I’ve started working on developing my own critical thinking skills more than 15 years ago, back in high-school, when I joined my school’s debate club. Later I began training others in debate and critical thinking, and still later I added critical thinking enhancement as part of my communication coaching services.

Drawing from these experiences, I wanna share with you 3 powerful strategies to improve your critical thinking skills, make better decisions and be more persuasive. Here they are:

1. Question Conventional Assumptions More Often

Our minds are highly predisposed to just absorb the ideas they get exposed to, without judging their truthfulness first. Especially ideas we hear a lot. They are, in a way, like sponges for any type of information. And while this has benefits, it also goes often against critical thinking.

So a very effective way to improve your critical thinking skills is to put some effort every day into deliberately stopping when you hear or read and idea, and asking yourself (and, if suitable, your interlocutor too): “What’s the evidence that this idea is true?” In other words, you don’t just accept the idea as true, you ask for reasons to accept it.

If convincing evidence is presented, you accept the idea and move on. If not, it’s worth maintaining some doubt towards that idea.

As you practice this, your minds gradually gets used to it and it becomes a habit. You build into your thinking a natural tendency to regularly question ideas, a healthy dose of skepticism.

2. Gain a Good Understanding of Logical Fallacies

Logical fallacies are tendencies to misjudge information, reason incorrectly, and reach false conclusions.

For instance, overgeneralization is a common logical fallacy, which consists in the tendency to jump too quickly to a general conclusion from a small number of sample cases. For example, you meet two lawyers who are arrogant, and you conclude that all lawyers are arrogant.

Although we like to think of ourselves as rational people, the truth is that all of us frequently fall prey to fallacies. However, by learning about the kind of logical fallacies that exist and working to identify them in our own thinking, as well as in the thinking of others, we get better at spotting them, and we increase our critical thinking abilities.

There is lots of information online about logical fallacies. I also talk about them often in my free newsletter, which I suggest you join. The better you understand fallacies, the easier it is to spot them and protect yourself from them.

3. Learn About Topics from Multiple Perspectives

When we learn about a topic, it’s common to learn about it from only one source, which has a particular view on that topic, although many other views exist, some of which are at least as credible, if not more.

The problem is that if you only know one theory about something, in the absence of alternative theories, it will often seem believable even if it’s severely flawed. Knowledge-deficient minds are often credulous minds.

This is why it’s good to learn various theories about any topic and acquaint yourself with an array of perspectives on it. It makes you wiser and it trains your critical thinking skills.

For example, if you live in a very religious Christian environment and you learn that we are the descendants of Adam and Eve, that explanation sort of makes sense if you don’t know any other explanation. But if you also learn about the theory of evolution by natural selection and the evidence to support it, you have a competing explanation that’s likely to make you question the previous one.

This in itself is an invitation to research some more and think some more about this issue, which develops both your knowledge and your critical thinking on the issue. It can be frustrating to come to doubt an idea you’re used to holding, but it pays off in the end.

As you practice questioning conventional assumptions, you gain a good understanding of logical fallacies and you learn about topics from multiple perspectives, the entire way you see things changes. It’s like you’ve been looking at the world through a dirty window until then, and now the window gets cleaned and the image becomes much clearer.

With strong critical thinking skills, you are apt to distinguish good ideas from bad ones, make wise choice in life, communicate in a persuasive manner and have a real impact on the world.

For more advice from me on how to improve your critical thinking skills, as well as your communication skills, I encourage you to get onboard my free social success newsletter. The content I publish in it is always top-notch.

Does Social Confidence Improve By Itself Over Time?

Our typical emotional reactions to certain types of situations often change over time, without us deliberately trying to change them. This applies for social confidence as well, which is a motive that gets many people who are shy or socially anxious asking themselves: will my social confidence improve over time, if I just wait?

Of course, it’s comforting to think that it does. All you have to do is wait, do nothing, and eventually you’ll stop being shy and be more confident. But could this be true? Here is my answer, based on my 5+ years of experience as a confidence coach.

First of all, in my experience, there is no universal rule. When people who lack social confidence do not attempt to change this, there are several directions their social confidence can take on its own: sometimes it does indeed improve on its own, other times it gets worse, and other times it stays about the same.

The General Rule

Nevertheless, there is a general rule. There is a trend that you’ll see happening in about 80% or more of the cases. And this trend is that, unfortunately, unless you do something to improve your social confidence, it will gradually get worse over time, not better.

It’s not only my experience. Other coaches or psychologists who work with people with shyness or social anxiety have noticed this phenomenon; and various longitudinal studies of people with shyness or social anxiety point to the same conclusion.

up-downWhy is this? Here’s the explanation.

Over time, individuals who are at least moderately socially confident go out, meet people, have social interactions, and maintain an active social life.

Slowly but slowly, these experiences build their social skills and social intelligence. They get even better at understanding other people and relating to them, as well as understanding social dynamics and navigating them. This in time makes them even more confident.

Meanwhile, individuals who perceptibly lack social confidence avoid social events and they stay at home to play computer games or surf the net instead. Thus they get little social experience, so their social skills and social intelligence barely improve.

This widens the gap between their social competence and that of others around them. While others become more smooth and charismatic socially, learn how to be witty and read subtle social cues, they still don’t even know how to talk to people and hold a normal conversation.

And being aware of this widening gap, they feel even more nervous in social situations. The more they are left behind socially, the less socially confident they are. And that’s the sad truth.

The Biggest Exception

Out of all the exceptions, there is one big one though, which I would like to point out.

As I said, for some people, their social confidence does improve by itself over time. Most often, this is because they achieve success in some other area of their life and this improves their self-image.

For instance, maybe they achieve success in their professional life by constantly honing their job-related skills. They climb the career ladder, they get professional recognition or they make a lot of money.

This makes them feel better about themselves, and see themselves as more entitled to be liked by others. So they go into social settings with a newly discovered confidence, which makes it easier for them to have social interactions, which gets them more social experience, which gets them more social skills, which makes them even more confident, and a positive cycle ensues.

However, even this exception has its own big exception. Many times, even if a person does achieve great success in some other area of their life, it will not make them more socially confident at all.

Because as you already know if you’ve watched this instructional video I created, the correlation between your achievements in life and your social confidence is frequently very small. You can be the smartest, wealthiest and most capable person in the room, but your mind can still mess with you and make you feel like a loser.

This, along with the fact that the general rule is for social confidence to decrease over time if it’s already not very good, means that there is only one sensible thing to do if you lack social confidence: seek to do something about it.

The Really Good News

The best news is that you can take charge. Your confidence will likely go down over time if you do nothing. Maybe you’ve already experienced this. However, fortunately, you can do something to make your confidence go up like a rocket instead.

First of all, you can take action instead of waiting and just reading stuff. You need to start working deliberately at changing the way you see yourself, others and social situations, as well as the way you relate to others in social situations, in order to build your confidence.

Secondly, the technology you apply for building social confidence has to be effective. There is a lot of generic, repetitive and simplistic advice out there for overcoming social insecurities, and it just doesn’t work.

This is why I encourage you to get yourself a copy of my Conversation Confidence guide.

It’s a practical, proven transformational program, and it will teach you a highly effective, step-by-step formula for turning shyness and social anxiety into social confidence. Check it out here, and have a look at the testimonials here.

As you gain some social confidence and your social life begins to improve, it’s even easier to get additional social confidence and enhance your social life even more. Conversely, the more you wait and do nothing, the worse your social confidence gets and the harder it is to pull yourself out of the whole you’re in.

So, no matter how low your confidence level is right now, know you can completely upgrade it, and wait no more. It’s time to take action!

Image courtesy of jenny downing

How to Improve Conversation Skills

I see conversation as the glue that sticks people together. If you pay attention to how people bond, socialize and build partnerships, you’ll notice that it’s done mostly through the art of conversation.

It’s a very big surprise to me that throughout most of our formal education, we don’t learn how to improve conversation skills, because I believe they are some of the top skills one can have in our society.

Going beyond formal education, I find most books and courses on how to improve conversation skills to be crammed with platitudes and simplistic advice.

Since in my work as a social confidence coach I help my clients apply effective ways to improve conversation skills, I’m going to share with you the key action steps that, in time, I’ve noticed to contribute the most to mastering conversation.

Start with Conversation Confidence

The majority of persons who contact me and tell me they lack conversation skills, I usually find out upon a thorough inspection that first and foremost, they lack conversation confidence.

It’s not that they don’t have something to say or they don’t know how to converse; it’s that they lack the confidence to do so. They’re afraid they’ll say the wrong thing, come off as awkward or make fools of themselves. Thus, they end up being coy in social interactions.

Many times, 80% of their problem would be solved if they would get conversation confidence. But since they misdiagnose their situation, they seek to learn how to improve conversation skills instead, and they alienate themselves in this quest.

If you lack conversation confidence, start by getting this handled. Your lack of confidence is based on perfectionism and limiting beliefs, and it is in fact the primary cause of conversational deficiency. Change your thinking; your conversation skills will follow.

Because there are a lot of things to be said on this, I have a free conversation confidence guide for you in which I’ll teach you a 3-step process to become confident in conversations. Go here to get it.

Get More Social

I frequently hear people who struggle in their social interactions saying that they want to learn how to improve their conversation skills so they can then go out and socialize more. They believe if they just get the right techniques, the social animal within them will come out.

In reality, it works exactly the other way around. You go out more, despite your shortage (real or imagined) of conversation skills, you participate in social activities, you interact with lots of people, you make conversation, and as you do so, your skills sharpen.

This may be an uncomfortable reality because in entails that you face your shyness and socialize more, but it’s the only viable option. The primary way to sharpen your social skills is exposure to social situations.

This exposure, along with a constructive mindset, will gradually make your conversation style self-regulate and it will become more engaging, charismatic and powerful. It’s mostly a matter of practice and desire.

Balance the Energy

Think of a conversation as an exchange of energy. Well, whenever such an exchange takes place, balance is always important. You want the energy going one way to match the energy going the other.

This balance is often the missing ingredient in discussions between two people. In many conversations:

  • One person does most of the talking, while the other does most of the listening;
  • One person is whining, while the other is providing support;
  • One person is the entertainer, while the other is the entertained.

Whenever I see or I am in a conversation like that, I feel like there’s something missing and the social dynamic there is not sustainable.

Like most things in life, good conversation implies balance. It is through balancing the energy in discussions that you become able to make them fruitful for both/all the persons involved.

Master Self-Expression

From my perspective, the better you become at communicating opinions, feelings and experiences using language, the more interesting conversation you can make.

Again, confidence plays a big role. So, make sure to check out my free conversation confidence guide to get this area handled.

I find that many people have a very generic and vague way of expressing themselves. They talk in clichés, and they don’t put the richness of their inner world into the outer world. They may be really interesting people, but because they lack in verbal skills, few others ever find out.

Practice expressing yourself with words. Paint vivid and rich pictures in the minds of your audience, using words. This is something I’ve focused on mastering in many of my public speaking experiences and I can tell you that it’s just a matter of practice, repetition and persistence.

With the four conversation pillars above in place, making artful conversation is not hard at all. It’s easy, fun and something you look forward to every day.

In the process of learning how to improve your conversation skills, keep these pillars in mind and give them priority. They will take you and your social life very far.

Image courtesy of moriza

When It Comes To Life Success, It’s All About Crafty Confidence – 5 Unorthodox Tips to Improve Yours

This is a guest post by Jonny Gibaud, co-founder of Emergency Food Storage. Jonny writes for the love of helping people, inspiring people and Katie Holmes. For articles on Life Design, Business and Sexy Money head over to his blog or check out his personal BrandBase.

Confidence Is The Winner

Confidence, more than ability, is usually what separates the winners from the losers and so what better trait to focus on for improving your confidence.

Some people are innately very confident and I am sure we all secretly harbor some resentment towards them because of it but even if confidence does not come easily to you, it can be improved. The 5 Unorthodox confidence boosting techniques we are going to focus on today are:

1. Wear Outrageous Underwear
2. Make Statements – Limit Explanation
3. Learn To Love Silence
4. Dress Dapper
5. Finish Well

1. Wear Outrageous Underwear

Sometimes the only thing you need to do to put your fears to rest is to have a secret that you know and no one else does. Imagining people in their underwear is yesterday’s news, wearing your own outrageous pair of skinnies under your clothes in the new future.

Having this little secret that you and only you in the room know will help you feel more relaxed and settled.

Personally, whenever giving a presentation or networking I like to wear a pair of silk black boxer shorts with bright red hearts on. (Yeah, too much information I know) but it is this little outrageous act that relaxes me and allows me to be at my most confident. Try it and see for yourself.

2. Make Statements – Limit Explanation

Confidence is all about perception and the quickest way to destroy that perception is to overly explain your job, idea, background, latest travels etc. Try to limit the amount of explaining you do unless specifically asked to.

Simply making a one sentence statement is incredibly powerful because it comes across that what you just said does not need explanation or proof.

“I’m a Personal Branding consultant who works with my clients to define and project a powerful Personal Brand both online and offline” is far more powerful then “I’m a Personal Branding consultant who works with my clients to define and project a powerful Personal Brand both online and offline. You need a personal brand because…..and I do this…and this for you…with this on the side”

3. Learn To Love Silence

Silence is your friend, my friend.

Most people hate silences and will do anything to avoid them, and it is for this reason that learning to love them can be so powerful.

Whether the silence falls within a natural lull in conversation or when contemplating an idea, people will normally try to jump in and fill it with repeated words, fill words or just plain nonsense. Anything but the silence.

If you can learn to enjoy the silences, not try to fill them and use the time to actually think (as opposed to having shifty, uncomfortable eyes) then the world is yours. People admire this trait and subconsciously attach a huge amount of self confidence to your character.

4. Dress Dapper

We all make snap decisions, we shouldn’t but we do. If you’re not looking your best, you will never feel and act your best.

Remember how confident you felt in a Tux or a beautiful dress. (Tux for boys, dress for girls. Behave people.) Clothes make a difference and nothing saps your confidence like turning up underdressed and not looking your best.

Take the time to make sure you look dapper and let your confidence expand from there. Your look is the foundation of your confidence.

5. Finish Well

It’s all in the finish people. Fortunately you can make a hash of almost everything but if you finish well, that has the major impact on what the audience takes away.

Focus on always finishing speeches, conversations and network events with a powerful and confident close. Practice and perfect it.

With a powerful close that will leave a great impression you can be safe in the knowledge than no matter how badly things go, people will tend to remember at least a confident close. This knowledge will also help you relax and in turn act more confident. It’s a great fulfilling circle of awesomeness.

Get Confident

So there you have it. Five very simple and effective techniques for improving your confidence. Go out and give them a try, I am sure you won’t be disappointed. Also, as a shameless plug for my new upcoming book keep and eye out for the launch of CHOOSE: Master of Money Or Slave To It.

Rock on all.

Image courtesy of pasotraspaso

Improve People Skills Fast Through Immersion

I’m not generally a big fan of quick fixes and claims of fast improvement, for people skills or any other soft skill. I believe that most of them ignore the natural level of practice and repetition learning requires and they usually over-promise. However, I think there is one smart, effective way to get relatively quick results in developing skills.

Last week, I had a 6-day public speaking training with a very cool group of young participants. The kind of people who definitely had some smart things to say, but hadn’t actually learned how to articulate them with impact in front of an audience. Just the kind of participants I like to work with.

The 6 days of training were an intense learning experience. The participants did speeches almost every day, got and gave feedback, learned public speaking principles and techniques, did exercises and case studies. They got back home each day to research and prepare speeches for the next day, they talked with their friends about public speaking, and they probably dreamed public speaking in their sleep.

By the last day of the training, when they delivered their final celebration speeches, all the participants had made huge leaps in their public speaking skills. They had improved one subset of people skills in 6 days more than most people do in a 1 year.

How did this happen? What we have at work here is what I see as the only effective way to improve people skills or any soft skill fast: experiences of immersion.

Experiences of immersion mean that for a period of a couple of days up to a couple of weeks, you are in a totally different head space. In this period you focus almost constantly on a certain skill and doing the activities which develop it. You eat breath and sleep those activities, you constantly push yourself out of your comfort zone and by the time the period is over, something has visibly changed inside you.

Most self-improvement is done is small, gradual steps. You practice something 30 minutes each day for 6 months and then you see some real progress. With immersion, you practice almost non-stop for 3-5-15 days. There is pretty much nothing for you but that practice in those days. It’s intense learning with intense results.

Before you get too exited and jump into some 1-week bootcamp, I think a small warning is in order: not all skills and not all soft skills develop well though immersion. People skills tend to do so, but on the long run it usually requires a mix between periods of immersion and longer periods of small, daily practice to improve your skills with people in the best way.

This being said, I do encourage you to seek out and get into immersion experiences to improve people skills. Here are some important tips on how to make these experiences happen and make the most out of them:

  1. Save some money. Powerful immersion experiences often involve a training, bootcamp, workshop or adventure of some sort, which will cost you some money. So if you’re interested in one, make sure you put some money aside before you try to get into such an experience.
  2. Take a vacation. Most of us have work, school or families which require us to be there almost on a daily basis. So if you wanna have an immersion experience which will require at least a couple of days, you will probably need to plan and take a small vacation for it. Trust me: it will be one hell of a vacation!
  3. Choose the right people skills. Immersion experiences can be financially, physically and psychologically draining. You can’t afford to do them very often. So when you do, make sure you pick the ones which will improve people skills you find the most relevant: public speaking, conversational skills, confident communication etc.
  4. Don’t loose the momentum. If after an immersion experience you stop practicing, your newly improved skills will usually regress, often at a rapid pace. So keep practicing on a daily basis to reinforce the learning. That initial practice right after the experience is the most valuable one.

In the rushed society we live in, with some many things to do, immersion experiences are a rare thing. And I think this is a pity, since we all want fast growth and this is the only effective way to improve people skills and many others fast. Set the things in place for an immersion, do it, keep the wheels spinning, and you will improve your people skills in a breath taking way.

Image courtesy of Powerhouse Museum

Learning Resources to Improve People Skills

I’m on a guest post writing spree this month; getting my ideas out there, spreading the word on how to improve people skills. I want to recommend you a couple of articles related to people skills which I wrote and have been published on other blogs in the past few days.

On Sources of Insight: Top 10 lessons in improving communication.

On Rat Race Trap: Why honesty will save your day.

On The Life Thing: How to be wise by the time you’re 30.

On A Different Kind of Work: Getting ahead by not being a cliché.

While you’re on these blogs, I suggest that you also check out the other stuff they have there. I’m sure you’ll find lots of value for your personal development and for improving your skills with people.

Be cool!

Image courtesy of fofurasfelinas

How Having a Life Can Improve Your People Skills

People skills have an interesting dynamic, because in order to improve them, you sometimes need to dig in other areas, improve there, and then you will see your people skills go up as well. And if you only work on them directly, you will often just create a superficial result.

One such area is having a life. Every person I know who has not just good, but awesome people skills, also has a very reach and meaningful life. These people travel a lot, read a lot, meet all kinds of people, and try all sorts of hobbies. Not only does this give them a certain confidence and charisma, but it also eases their social interactions with others.

If you think about it, your life and your person are what you put on the table when you’re talking with someone. They create content and context for your social interactions. If your life is very repetitive and uninteresting, if you as a person are shallow and conventional, it’s like putting a bag of peanuts on the table and asking the other person if she wants to dine with you. Not very appealing for her.

One particular effect I value which having a life has on your social interactions is this: having a life allows you to relate to almost anything the other person says or does. This can be one of those key people skills, as it’s helps you greatly to break the ice, build rapport and make quality conversation with others.

Here’s on example of not relating effectively to what someone says:

You: “So, what did you do this weekend?”

Her: “I went to a tango festival. I’m taking tango lessons you know.”

You: “Aha, really?

Here’s the same example with a twist:

You: “So, what did you do this weekend?”

Her: “I went to a tango festival. I’m taking tango lessons you know.”

You: “I have a friend who dragged me to a couple of tango lessons once. It was actually a lot more fun than I expected. I liked the fact I started learning how to be a good lead. I think that’s important.

See the difference? In the second case, you are actually relating to what the person is saying, connecting your experience with hers. But in order to do that, you need to have taken tango lessons, known someone who has, or at least talked about it with someone who was into tango.

There is a huge link between having a life and having the skills to relate. Yet, people who live rich, meaningful lives are rare. Even if we live in a world where we have a ton of options, my experience is that most people have pretty dull and repetitive lives.

This being said, here are some starters towards enriching your life:

  • Consider activities you have never done before and try them out;
  • Make sure you vary your activities and don’t stop at just one or two;
  • Include some sports, and some social or group activities in your agenda;
  • Save money to afford some of the more expensive activities you can try.

When you have tried just about anything or you know just about anything, I believe you are in a place where you can make great friends, build great business relationships and influence people with ease. Having a life is one of the most important ways you can use to improve your people skills.

How Knowing Yourself Can Improve Your People Skills

Finding my niche as a communication coach and figuring the lifestyle that suits me was not a revelation, it was a process. One of the stepping stones in this process was knowing myself thoroughly and understanding what I have to offer.

An interesting side effect was how much I improved my people skills, as a result of improving my self-knowledge. There is an obvious link between knowing yourself and choosing the right career. I discovered there is also a strong but more subtle link between knowing yourself and your people skills.

It’s funny how the effective personal development in one area often starts in another, apparently far away area. Here are some specific ways I experienced myself how knowing yourself can improve your people skills:

1. More social confidence. When you know yourself well, you know what you are about and you understand your strengths. From this place, confidence to put yourself out there often comes naturally. Knowing yourself often pushes you to meet people and to express yourself socially.

On the other hand, people who have a blurry image about themselves are more reluctant to put themselves out there. They don’t even understand who the person they put out there is, so they often have superficial interactions with others.

2. Building comfort. I realized one of the best ways to make people feel comfortable with you is to give them the chance to know you as a person. And you do this by expressing your thoughts, values, passions, emotions, in a powerful way.

But of course, in order to do this, you have to know them. As you know and open yourself up authentically, it’s easier for other people to reciprocate by opening themselves up. This two-way process is essential in building strong relations.

3. Investing in the right relations. How often have you heard people complaining about how they have the wrong friends or relationships? It’s easy to get caught up in time and energy consuming relations with people who are not a good fit for you when you don’t know yourself.

However, when you understand yourself, your intuition and your logic will better tell you who is a good fit for you. This will help you invest time and energy in maintaining and growing the relations with the right people for you, and letting the other ones fade.

There is a very simple lesson here: if you want to improve your people skills but you don’t know yourself very well, forget your people skills for a while and focus on this aspect. Get to know yourself better and as you do, you will improve your people skills and you will also create a solid foundation for them.