Separate Fact From Opinion To Make Smarter Decisions

Speakers who seem certain that they’re right may try to disguise their views as undeniable facts. Listeners, even those who are great at critical thinking, can struggle to separate fact from opinion.


Shrewd leaders don’t fall for it. They notice when others lack a factual basis for their case, even if the argument sounds airtight.

“It’s important to be a healthy skeptic,” said Patricia Pippert, founder and president of P2 Enterprises, a Chicago-based training and development firm. “You want to check their critical thinking by getting them to walk you through their thought process.”

It helps if you confirm you are getting accurate, unbiased information from employees, consultants and others who seek to influence you. Digging to determine the source of their claims — and politely enlisting their help in proving that their data is valid — makes everyone more vigilant about drawing correct conclusions.

You can learn to improve your critical thinking skills while listening to others.

Look Past Adjectives For Critical Thinking

Don’t be fooled when speakers favor adjectives over nouns. Instead, critical thinking and listening call you to dig for concrete information.

“When you hear adjectives, you’re not hearing a noun or fact,” Pippert said. If a staffer says, “It’s a seamless plan,” ask for specifics on how and why it’s seamless.

Seek The Flip Side

When people voice strong opinions to support their position, encourage them to play devil’s advocate. Ask them to take the opposing side. This will aid your own critical thinking.

If an employee urges you to invest in new equipment, for example, say, “Give me your best case for not buying that equipment.”

“So if they initially cherry-picked facts, get them to tell you the opposite story,” Pippert said. “There are two sides to every story,” so it helps to collect two sets of facts before you decide.

Follow The Logic In Critical Thinking

Facts alone don’t prove a case. But they help reasonable people make prudent decisions and flex critical thinking.

After hearing the facts, Pippert suggests asking, “How did you take that evidence and make the leap to your conclusion?”

If the person replies, “Well, it’s obvious,” don’t take the bait. Stay calm and say, “Help me out here. I’m not there yet. Help me make that leap.”

“Leaders lead by asking questions and getting others to see for themselves that they’re cherry-picking facts based on their own biases,” she said.

Watch Your Tone

Beware of allowing your critical thinking to morph into disapproval. Show that you’re earnest about assessing facts rather than heeding opinions.

“It’s important to try to collect evidence without attacking,” said Debra Fine, a Denver-based professional speaker. “If you ask, ‘How do you know that?’ it can sound like an attack. But if you ask, ‘Can you give me an example of how you know that?’ ” it’s less confrontational.

Read Nonverbal Cues During Critical Thinking

Speakers who are comfortable citing facts will radiate confidence. They may share the source of their information and why it’s reliable.

“But if you notice that they seem nervous or unsettled, pay attention to that body language,” said Fine, author of “The Fine Art Of Small Talk.”

At the same time, consider how you carry yourself in conversation. Ideally, you strike a receptive pose and welcome facts with open arms — and avoid shaking your head in disgust whenever you hear an opinion.

Reflect On What You Heard

Soon after a conversation, mentally review the speaker’s word choice while it’s still fresh in your mind. To what extent did they — and you — separate fact from opinion and rely on critical thinking?

“If you heard words like ‘best ever,’ think about whether you heard fluff or facts that you can nail down with evidence,” Pippert said. “Were there any metrics cited such as rating systems, numbers or percentages?”


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