critical thinking and communicating

Article by Dr.L.Michael Hall and Mr Shawn Dwyer  ~

Here are core distinctions of every professional communicator. Given that mastery involves making critical distinctions, how well do you make the following seven critical distinctions? 

1) Map and Territory                   2) Person and Behavior

3) Meaning and Response          4) Sensory and Evaluation information

5) Frame and Feeling                   6) Advocacy and Inquiry 

7) Current and Desired state

I began this series of articles by identifying these set of communication distinctions. You can think of each of those distinctions as presenting one aspect of critical thinking-a distinction which if you ignore, or don’t know how to make, would doom your communications to be vague, imprecise, and sloppy. Consequently, you would be more likely to create mis-understanding rather than deliver a clear message.

That’s why critical thinking is important

It enables you to be more precise and with precision, therefore clear. It also enables your communications to be more mature rather than over-simplistic, naive, and childish. Given the cognitive development stages of childhood, children cannot engage in critical thinking. Only after puberty, with the development of formal logical thinking, can a person’s thinking mature enough to begin to learn how to think critically. Yet even then it does not automatically happen and that’s why many adults (perhaps most) do not know how to engage in the advanced thinking competencies called “critical thinking.”

One of the fascinating and disappointing things I learned when I researched the field of Critical Thinking was that not a single writer in that field knew or quoted the NLP Communication Model – the Meta-Model. And yet it is perhaps the very best critical thinking tool of all. Having read extensively in that field, I never came across a model that was half as good as the Meta-Model. That’s why I put the Meta-Model in the book, Executive Thinking (2018).

Messy Communication

It is the lack of critical thinking that makes most communication messy and lacking important distinctions. So that lack also makes for a whole host of ways to mis-communicate and, of course, with mis-communication comes mis-understandings and conflicts. All unnecessary if a person knows how to think and communicate critically.

The original Meta-Model (1975) provided eleven (11) distinctions to make when using language to communicate. The extended Meta-Model (1997) expanded the list to twenty-one (21) distinctions- all of which enable critical thinking and precision in communicating. As a result, when you learn how to use the Meta-Model, you learn how to think about your thinking while you are communicating. Futhermore, today we call that level of meta-cognition- mindfulness.


That quality of mindfulness is a function of your higher brain functions, your pre-frontal cortex. It is from there that you are able to think things through with a quality of precision and specificity that comprises understanding and clarity. That quality of mindfulness enables you to know what you are doing with your words, your language, where you are sending the brains of those who are listening to you. When you don’t know that- you are guessing. You are crossing your fingers and hoping and guessing that your words will make sense to others and will transmit whatever message or meaning you have in mind.

The critical thinking, or perhaps more accurate, the executive thinking of your pre-frontal cortex, enables you to be mindful about what you are doing when you speak. Hence you can be more strategic. Now you can treat words and language as tools for achieving your ends. Now you can use the communication distinctions mentioned earlier to help you navigate the territory of communicating as a professional.

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