Research studies

Critical Thinkers, Critical Listeners: What relation


Prepared by the researcher  :  Ahmed Mansour  PhD Student (Faculty of Letters and Human Sciences (FLSHO), Mohamed First University (UMP), Oujda) – Applied Communication in Context laboratory (ACC)

Democratic Arab Center

International Journal of Educational and Psychological Studies : Eighteenth Issue – September 2022

A Periodical International Journal published by the “Democratic Arab Center” Germany – Berlin

Nationales ISSN-Zentrum für Deutschland
ISSN  2569-930X
International Journal of Educational and Psychological Studies

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Developing the ability to think critically as well as to listen critically is of a major importance in education in the last decades.

on the one hand, critical thinking helps the process of reasoning, thinking open-mindedly, solving real-life problems and learning. On the other hand, critical listeners are active listeners. They listen attentively, purposefully, and consciously. This paper endeavours to give a framework for the concept of thinking critically and listening critically and to shed light on the main characteristics of a good critical thinker/ listener. It investigates the relationship between critical thinking and critical listening and demonstrates thattheir characteristics actually correlate.


Critical thinking is a human attribute which distinguishes humans from other living beings. It is “the art of analysing and evaluating thinking with a view to improving it” (Paul and Elder (2009: 2). It is a vital skill in every field of learning and teaching, particularly in the last decades. It helps the process of reasoning, thinking open-mindedly, solving real-life problems and learning. Critical thinkers are people with special attributes, they think in accordance with the rules of logic and probabilities, they raise important questions and problems, examine ideas, decode significance and meaning, assess arguments, draw conclusions, effectively communicatetheir thoughts, and opinions and feelings, and learn consciously.  Above all, critical thinkers are good listeners; they engage in active listening. They listen attentively, purposefully, and consciously to understand, infer, interpret, and formulate responses and conclusions. The relationship between critical thinking and critical listening is of paramount importance in the field of education and needs to be revealed and discussed. This article addresses the characteristics of both critical thinkers and critical listeners with the intention to demonstrate their strong correlation.


‘Cogito ergo sum’, which is translated to ‘I think therefore I am’, is well known as a ‘Descartian’ declaration and the first steppingstone to knowledge. For René Descartes, thinking is reasoning and a way to prove one’s existence. He argued that reason is a chain of simple ideas, linked by applying strict rules of logic. Back in the fourth century BC, Greek philosophy hailed thinking for embodying logic and rationality. Socrates, in the teaching of thinking, used to provide his students with problem-solving tasks and challenging questions and support their learning through ‘dialogue’, between him as a knower and his novice students. Thinking, for him, was an important tool to ‘examine’ one’s values and beliefs in order to determine their credibility. Plato, one of Socrates’ students, continued his work in questioning commonly held beliefs by seeking reasoned and logical explanations. Aristotle, Plato’s student, continued the teaching and documented ideas about thinking as centred around ‘logic’(McGrogor, 2007: 9).

In education, Piaget (a Swiss developmental psychologist) and Vigotsky (a Russian psychologist) are two very prominent educational psychologists whose theories still inform much of contemporary educational practice. They influenced the teaching of thinking so fundamentally. Thinking, for Piaget, is an active process.Learners develop thinking cognitivelyand construct knowledge through the development of understanding of the world around them. Whereas, Vygotsky was more concerned with the influence of societal factors on individual intellectual development. He believed that learning and thinking were social in essence, and that thinking development is a result of interactions between peers, or experts and novices when communicating about a shared experience.


The word ‘critical’ is derived from the Greek word ‘Kritikis’ meaning to judge. It arose out of the way analysis and Socratic argument comprised thinking at that time. (McGregor, 2007) Thinking critically is manifested through assessing content, methods, and objectives of learning. It is a lifelong skill. Students with high critical thinking are enthusiastic, motivated, curious, endeavours, conscious and researchers. Emis (2009) maintains that “if students are to function successfully in a highly technical society, then they must be equipped with lifelong learning and thinking skills necessary to acquire and process information in an ever-changing world” (cited in Karakoc, 2016: 82).

Critical thinking

Many definitions of critical thinking expound the notions of logical analysis in accordance with rules and reasons, evaluating data, and judging them consciously and wisely. Along with communicating professionally, critical thinkers appreciate others’ thoughts and feelings, they are emotionally intelligent, and they are open-minded and confident in expressing themselves.

Lipman’s (1987: 39) definition of critical thinking as “skilful, responsible thinking that facilitates good judgment because it relies upon criteria, is self-correcting and is sensitive to context” contains three cues that would shed light on some characteristics of critical thinkers, they adopt precepts to frame their thinking.Such precepts would be standards, objectives, laws and conventions. They foster self-correction as a personal trait that works for self-promotion. They are eclectic towards embracing and using certain precepts in the thinking process and are sure that their thinking is within a proper context.

Edward Glaser (1941: 5) describes critical thinking as the “knowledge of the methods of logical enquiry and reasoning”. He also describes how it requires persistence to examine beliefs or ideas in the light of the evidence that supports them and the further conclusions to which it tends.

Instead of giving a definition, Facione (2015) collects a list of skills and sub-skills. These skillsare the outcome of a consensus which was built by a panel of experts who were convened by the American Philosophic Association (1990). These skills and subskills lay the groundwork to identify and characterize critical thinking. First, interpretation includes categorization, decoding significance, and clarifying meaning. Second, analysis involves examining ideas, identifying arguments, and analysing arguments. Evaluation is the third skill which includes assessing claims and assessing arguments. Fourth, evaluation encompasses sub-skills such as querying evidence, conjecturing alternatives, and drawing conclusions. Finally, explanation cover sub-skills such as stating results.

Creative Thinking Vs. Critical Thinking

Thinking criticallyand creative thinking are two different thinking styles. According to McGrogor (2007: 4), Creativity refers to a process of making or producing.  It “is the ability to see things in a new way, to see problems that no one else may even realize exist, and then to come up with new, unique, and effective solutions to these problems”. Creativity has various features: flexibility, multiple thinking, sensitivity to the environment and humans, being awake and showing interest in new situations, rationalism, originality, and reaching different results. However, critical thinking is a process of assessing or judging. It is frequently referred to as ‘logical’ or ‘analytical’ thinking. ‘Critical thinking is often described as the process to determine the authenticity, accuracy or value of something and characterized by the ability to seek reasons and alternatives, perceive the total situation, and base one’s view on evidence.’ (McGrogor, 2007: 4)

Critical listening

Critical listening is a thinking processof analysing what is received, interpreting meaning and reacting to the message. It is a reasonable and reflective listening focused on what to believe or do. This thinking process entails inferring information or evidence given and logically explaining one’s point of view towards the text.The Glossary of Critical Thinking definescritical listening as:

A mode of monitoring how we are listening so as to maximize our accurate understanding of what another person is saying. By understanding the logic of human communication — that everything spoken expresses point of view, uses some ideas and not others, has implications, etc. — critical thinkers can listen so as to enter sympathetically and analytically into the perspective of others.  (

Critical listeners

Critical listenersare required to consciously comprehend and interpret the meaning of what is said. They are able to analyse the text by examining ideas, feelings and gestures, as well as gaining a greater understanding of the subject, and the way it is delivered. They examine the language used (formal, informal, technical …), sentence types and the flow of ideas. In addition, they efficiently observe and accurately decode non-verbal cues (proxemics, facial expressions, appearance,pitch, stress, tone, and speed of the speech). They explain what they think and how they arrived at their conclusion.

Inferencing means identifying querying tools needed to draw reasonable hypotheses, which require consideration of relevant information and drawing warranted conclusions and generalizations.Subsequently, critical listeners are able to recognize debatable issues, figure out unstated assumptions and recognize one’s pattern of beliefs on the basis of wider experiences. Explanation is being able to state results methodologically. Critical listenersare objective, less emotional and appreciateothers’ views and opinions. They make reasonable and intelligent decisions about what to believe and how to act.

Moreover, Evaluation is assessing and judging the credibility of claims,arguments, and appeals. Critical listeners think as the speaker thinks, they pay close attention to the organization and order of the text and the language used whether it is formal or informal. They determine to what extent the supporting ideas facts, shreds of evidence and data are adequate, relevant, to the point, applicable and recent. They intend to evaluate the speaker’s ability to explain, tell stories, inform, persuade, urge, and entertain.

Self-regulation is a learning activity. This process increases self-understanding, as Thomas Horra claimed that “to understand oneself one needs to be understood by others. To be understood by others, one needs to understand the other.”Critical listeners learn from comparing the speech’s main supporting ideas with one’s own and to those of other audience members.  By judging strong and weak points in a text, listeners would discover and foster their own attitudes and presuppositions about the text’s subject and foster their self-awareness of their limits and their own thinking. “By learning how to examine other speakers and writers critically, you can learn how to become a better speaker (writer) yourself” (Letteri, 2002: 1)

It is active listening, where listenersare required to interact with the speaker.They go beyond hearing sounds and words or observing gestures. If passive listeners are focusing only on themselves, on what to agree or disagree with, on what to adopt or distract, then critical listeners focus on what the speakersays, what he/she intends to send, his/her manner and reason. Critical listeners are listening from the speaker’s frame of reference.They don’t listen just to what is said, but what is not being said. They listen to what is behind the words.

Critical listeners pay attention to their behaviour and the reactions they send as a response to the speaker’s message. The listener’s body language plays an important role in maintaining a good rapport with the speaker. Instead of leaningbackwardsand communicating disinterest, they would rather show keenness to the speaker and speech by smiling, nodding one’s head, and maintaining eye contact.

Critical listeners send positive feedbacks that enhance behaviour in progress. They are able to combat noise or distraction. In communication studies, noiseincludes anything that interferes or impedes the ability to send or receive a message(Samovar, Porter, McDaniel and Roy, 2013: 31). Noise distracts communicators by focusing their attention on something extraneous to the communication act. It emanates from both internal sources (personal values and beliefs or technical, semantic and effectiveness problems, etc.)and external sources (sight, sound, smell and feel of the environment).

As a matter of fact, most of us find it more difficult to cope with external noise than with internal noise, because opening a window is much easier than opening one’s mind or changing one’s beliefs. Therefore, critical listeners should focus their attention on what is said and how it is said. They are able to maintain a positive attitude and set aside any presuppositions, prejudice and stereotypes. Although listening, atfirst stance, is a top-down activity where listeners bring their prior knowledge and background about the subject, they shouldn’t stop the process of listening just because they don’t adore or disagree with the speaker’s point of view, they are not interested in the speech, or their social facts are challenged. Instead listening carefully to the speaker may enrich their knowledge about the topic and open their minds to new perspectives and scopes.

Critical listeners are action researchers. They take notes to record the speech’s main ideas and structure, and what types of evidence or appeals should be rejected, denied, relied on, or adopted. They conduct research to make sure of the credibility of data, statistics and citations.

To conclude, it turns out that we often take listening for granted as something easy and natural, however, critical listening is something to be learned and practised skilfully every day. Critical listening and critical thinking seem to be two faces of the same coin; in other words, each complements the other.


1.Emis, S. (2009). Educational Faculty Students: A Concise Guide. Routledge Press

2.Facione, P. (1990). Critical thinking: A statement of expert consensus for purposes of educational assessment and instruction. Research findings and recommendations. Newark, DE: American Philosophical Association. Retrieved from

3.Facione, P. (2015). Critical thinking: What it is and why it counts. Retrieved from

4.Glaser, E. (1941) An Experimentin the Development of Critical Thinking: Advanced School of Education at Teacher’s College , Colombia University. New York: AMS  Pres.

Glossary of Critical Thinking, The Foundation of Critical Thinking,

5.Karakoc, M. (2010). The Significance of Critica Thinking Ability in Terms of Education. International Journal of Humanities and Social Science, Vo. 6, No. 7; July 2010

6.Letteri, R. (2002). A Handbook of Public Speaking. Allyn & Bacon. Boston.

7.Lipman, M. (1987). Critical thinking: What can it be? Analytic Teaching, 8(1), 5-12. Retrieved from

8.McGregor, D. (2007). Developing Thinking, Developing Learning. Open University Press.

9.Samovar, L. A., Richard E. P., Edwin R. M.& Carolyn S. R. (2013). Communication Between Cultures. 8th edition. Wadsworth, Cengage Learning.

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