Critical Thinking Skills Are Essential Today

Written by Joanne Deck. Posted in Academic & Career Success, Blog

Today, more than ever, students, employees, and organizational leaders need well-developed critical thinking skills.  There are several reasons for this.  The rate of change and degree of complexity increase every year thanks to rapid technological developments and the information explosion.  The world’s information is doubling every two years, according to the 2011 Digital Universe Study.  What’s more, high-school seniors graduating in 2002 were exposed to more new data during their senior year than their grandparents knew in a lifetime! (www.yourbabytoday.com).  

The growth of the Internet has increased the accessibility of information with estimates of some 400 – 500 million people accessing the web on a daily basis (http://cyberatlas.internet.com/big_picture/demographics/article).   The shelter of anonymity and detachment offered by the Internet, together with the lack of government regulation, requires users to critically assess the information they obtain.  Critical thinking skills are essential to sort through the unfounded claims, erroneous interpretations, and outright deceptions presented on the web.

Since the 1920s, advertising techniques have become increasingly emotional and fear-based, affecting all age groups through various forms of media.  Reflecting Abraham Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, advertising executives play on our need for acceptance, security, family, change, membership in an elite group, and excitement.  They strive to associate their product or service with wealth, luxury, happiness, success, youthfulness, health, patriotism, individuality, and romance.  Common fear tactics include fear of death, aging, sickness, failure, poverty, and violence, among others (http://www.estevancomp.ca). 

It’s no surprise that critical thinking skills are taught at every grade level today.  We all need “a conscious and intellectually disciplined process of analyzing, interpreting, applying, and evaluating information,” the definition of critical thinking presented in the workshop I’ve developed.  Learn how to develop these essential skills in your employees here or in your leaders here.

Consider the Opposing Choice

Written by Joanne Deck. Posted in Academic & Career Success, Blog


As an academic and career coach, I help people develop the skills to succeed. Successful students usually become effective employees; most of the skills are transferrable.  In keeping with this week’s theme, let’s look at some of the things a student or employee (or manager) might do if they did not want to be successful.

  • Not use the tools they have at hand, such as calendar reminders and task lists
  • Fail to get up when the alarm goes off
  • Neglect to put things back where they belong, causing them to waste time looking for items
  • Fail to read the instructions
  • Reject feedback and suggestions
  • Resist asking for help or guidance
  • Underestimate the time needed to study, prepare, or practice
  • Allow distractions to prevent them from using their time wisely
  • Fail to set priorities and honor them

If you’re like me, you’ll see yourself in at least one of these items.  Let’s raise our awareness and make better choices.  Try considering this final question from my Weight Watchers days: “Will taking this action bring me closer to my goal?”

Is It Time to Intervene?

Written by Joanne Deck. Posted in Academic & Career Success, Blog

There are similarities between academic and career issues, as I’ve found being a parent, an educator, and a manager.  One common issue is knowing when to intervene with a student or a subordinate.  It’s important to recognize the possible early warning signs that we can observe:

  • Difficulty focusing or concentrating or showing signs of sleepiness (eg., slow responses, low energy, dropping off during a meeting)
  • Over-reaction or hypersensitivity to comments or situations
  • Ongoing complains about the teacher or supervisor
  • Forgetting to do assignments
  • Skipping classes, being absent from work, and/or missing tutoring/coaching sessions or meetings
  • Refusal to talk about problems or concerns
  • Difficulty getting along with roommates, classmates, or co-workers
  • Missed deadlines or failure to keep commitments

These signs are especially meaningful if the student or employee were to display two or more at a time.  The first step is talking directly to the student or employee.  The issue may be short-term or easily addressed.  If not, parents who observe these behaviors in their son or daughter can contact the school’s Counseling Department or Parents Resource page on the college’s website for additional support.  In the workplace, managers can turn to the Human Resources Department and/or company Employee Assistance Program for guidance.  The most important thing is not to ignore the warning signs.  Taking early, informed action is the best way to nurture and support those who need our assistance.

Look for the Good

Written by Joanne Deck. Posted in Academic & Career Success, Blog

It seems to be human nature to look for what’s wrong, what’s not working, or what needs improvement.  I understand striving for excellence; after all, I’ve authored a self-help book.  The problem is that when too much emphasis is placed on finding what’s broken and fixing it leaders miss opportunities to praise and encourage employees.

I heard about such an occurrence recently.  An employee was counseled by her boss to improve her timeliness, as tardiness had become an issue.  The individual took this message to heart and during the next quarter reported to work on time every day but one, when an accident caused a traffic delay.  When the employee and supervisor met to discuss another matter, did the boss comment on the vast improvement in the employee’s performance?  No, he mentioned the one time she was late.  I’m sure you can imagine how the employee felt.  I wonder why it wasn’t as obvious to the boss.

Motivational speaker Roger Crawford says most people wear an invisible sign that says Watch me!” just like a kid on the diving board hollering out to his mother.  Most employees want to do their best for their companies.  Let us make it a point to remember to look for the good in our subordinates, our peers, and even ourselves.  It’s especially important when they’ve had their challenges and are truly making an effort.  Offering encouragement and support will go a long way – and it won’t take anything out of the budget to do so.

Word Tippers

Written by Joanne Deck. Posted in Academic & Career Success, Blog

Whether you’re a business professional or a student, it’s essential that you learn to convey your message accurately.  Many of us feel underprepared for the challenge of writing effectively.  Fear not!  An expert I love to refer my clients to is Barbara McNichol, editor, speaker, and author of Word Tippers.  Her practical guidance on the right word to use is easy to understand and apply.  While her book is a worthy addition to your library, you can get started taking Barbara’s advice quickly and for free by signing up for her be-weekly newsletter with invaluable writing tips here

Personal Branding . . . A Marketing Strategy

Written by Joanne Deck. Posted in Academic & Career Success, Blog

Armani, Chanel, Prada, well-known and well-recognized.  They represent the best . . . quality, stylish and chic.  No one asks Who???  Why, because of branding.  Excellent strategists on personal branding are Madonna, Jordan, Ali, and Oprah.  No one asks WHO because their names are recognizable.  They have created their own personal brand.  Because impression in today’s world is so important we need to develop a personal brand.  It’s a marketing strategy for your personal success. 

Be a trendsetter.  Have appropriate necklines and hemlines.  Keep your shoes polished and in good condition.  Wear stylish clothing, have an updated hairstyle in an attractive color for your skin tone. Wear makeup fit for daytime and apply your smoky eye for evening.  Dress the part.  You are 100% responsible.

Contributed by Guest Blogger – Clarisse Ringwald, Image Consultant of Trevortni Color Creations

Learning Made Easy (or at least Easier)

Written by Joanne Deck. Posted in Academic & Career Success, Blog

Whether you’re a college student or working professional, it’s likely that you’ll be faced with learning new material. More mature learners often comment that it’s been such a long time since they were in college that they forgotten how to learn.  (This is not true, of course, but it can feel that way.)  College students may be more used to learning, but they’re faced with lots of material so learn, so experienced or not, it can be overwhelming.  Here are some tips to make learning easier:

  • Get yourself organized. Look over the material (syllabus, notes, reading material, etc.) and set goals for what you’ll cover each day/week/month so you can finish the course on schedule.
  • Create a study plan.  Learning takes repetition.  Divide your weekly study time into shorter periods so you can avoid mental fatigue and give yourself time to review the material a few times. 
  • Find a way to relate to the information.  We remember what we connect with, so look for your own examples that relate to the content.  
  • Use a technique to help you remember.  To memorize a Toastmaster’s speech, I break my content into bullet points and put them in alphabetical order, making it easier for me to recall them.  I still name the planets (as they were understood in the 1970s) using “my very educated mother just served us nine pizza pies.”
  • Use outlines, summaries, groupings, and hierarchies to help you memorize large amounts of information.
  • Study in an environment as close to the testing situation as possible.  According to the Academic Success Center at Iowa State University of Science and Technology, the more similar the two settings are, the greater the likelihood that the material will be recalled during a test.

If these tips are new to you, consider working with an Academic Coach.  I complete my academic coaching certification in May, so let me know if you’d like to learn more (no pun intended).

Acting Out at Work

Written by Joanne Deck. Posted in Academic & Career Success, Blog

When children misbehave at school, teachers sometimes kindly tell the parents that they’ve been “acting out” in the classroom.  This phrase may refer to a child’s ignoring or arguing with the teacher, not sharing with another student, being uncooperative with classmates, or having a temper tantrum during class.  While unpleasant, these are not unexpected behaviors – they’re children after all.

But what happens when people “act out” at work?  Such actions can look quite similar to those of a child: over sensitivity, inconsideration of others, withdrawal, failure to listen, irritability, impatience, or negativity.   Do any of these sound familiar?

The Birkman Assessment has a wonderful explanation of and approach to such behaviors.  According to the Birkman, people generally behave in these unconstructive ways when their needs are not being met.   These negative actions are called “stress behaviors” because the people exhibiting them are truly feeling stressed.  Since we don’t know what other people’s needs are unless they tell us, we usually have no idea their needs are being neglected.  We tend to get frustrated with their acting out when, in reality, the Birkman would tell us it’s not their fault.  Sometimes the people themselves don’t know what their needs truly are.

This was a profound explanation for me when I first heard it.  I found it beneficial on two levels.  First, it helped me be more compassionate and supportive of my co-workers when they were experiencing stress.  Rather than take their actions personally, I reminded myself that they had a need (not a desire, but a need) that was not being met.  Depending on the situation, I might be able to assist the individual in meeting that need and alleviating the stress.  Second, it enabled me to recognize some of my own stress behaviors.  This forced me to examine my needs, some of which had not been apparent to me.  It was then up to me to ensure that my needs were met, as that was the only way to permanently eliminate my unconstructive actions.

I hope this helps you the next time you or someone you encounter at work is exhibiting stress behaviors.  For more on the Birkman, click here.

“I’m Too Old to Learn”

Written by Joanne Deck. Posted in Academic & Career Success, Blog

This misstatement comes in other forms, too, such as “I’m not smart enough” or “School was never my thing.”  The fact is your brain was designed to learn, loves to learn, and knows how to learn, according to Rita Smilkstein, Ph. D.  Labrynth 320x240It learns with practice as over time it literally constructs a new neural network specifically for that object of learning.  Learning takes repeated exposure to material over time, ideally connecting it something we already know.  It also helps to be truly interested in the information and confident about your learning. The truth is “I can learn anything I’m committed to learning.”

Source: Smilkstein, R. (2003). The Natural Human Learning process – Tools for Writing. Retrieved from http://www.toolsforwriting.org/uploads/5/4/3/6/5436311/guidelinesbornto_learn.pdf

Advice from a Master

Written by Joanne Deck. Posted in Academic & Career Success, Blog

Our men’s speed skating team had a tough 2014 Winter Olympics.  In reflecting on this, master skater Apolo Anton Ohno, winner of eight medals, a record for a U.S. Winter Olympian, offered the following advice when things don’t go well: 1) look at the positives, and 2) ask – what can I learn from this?  Notice that there is no blame or shame. The process is simple, and the focus is completely positive and constructive.  It’s also concentrated on the future: what can I learn so I can do better next time?  Take his advice when you’re not having the success you’d like, and you’ll find it’s applicable to any area – academics, career, healthy lifestyle, or relationships.