Concrete thinking is an important part of the learning process, and is a highly sought-after skill at the workplace. It impacts the way people perceive the world. Let’s look at how:
- A enters a room and sees a table and a chair, not types of furniture
- B is driving on the highway and sees a large, round pipe, not a crucial part of the city’s water supply system
- C looks up and sees dark clouds in the sky but doesn’t think of it as a sign of the onset of monsoon
One can expand this list indefinitely, but these descriptions of how A, B and C view reality are just a few examples of concrete thinking. They represent the manner in which a person who uses concrete thought ‘sees’ the world.
Definition Of Concrete Thinking
According to the McGraw-Hill Concise Dictionary of Modern Medicine, the definition of concrete thinking is “cognition that reflects experience, rather than abstraction, typical of those who are unable to generalize.”
To understand this better, we can divide the process used in concrete thinking into two different, though-related, aspects:
- Disaggregated perception: Concrete thought involves seeing individual objects separately, not as part of a larger aggregated group or category
- Sensory-based perception: The concrete thinker focuses on those aspects that can be directly experienced by each of the five senses
In short, viewing things ‘literally’ and processing information ‘at face value’ are examples of concrete thinking. However, a person prone to concrete thinking wouldn’t be able to understand the phrase at all!
Iris Gray succinctly captures the essence of the definition of concrete thinking in a social media post that reads, “Don’t tell me something is ‘a piece of cake’ when there is no dessert in sight, and what you mean is, ‘This will be easy for you to do’.”
How Concrete Thinking Develops
Experts agree that the earliest ‘thoughts’ in children are clear examples of concrete thinking. This is the only way babies gather knowledge.
Studies have established that when newborn babies first interact with the world around them, they can only perceive things they see. For example, if a child is scared of an object, their fear will subside as soon as the object is no longer in sight.
This fits perfectly with the definition of concrete thinking in the American Heritage Medical Dictionary (2007) — “thinking characterized by a predominance of actual objects and events and the absence of concepts and generalizations.”
As they grow, children begin to understand things they’ve experienced with all their senses. Merely seeing a bell or rattle will no longer pacify the child; the object will have to make the sound they expect from it. From there, children soon learn to ask for things that aren’t present in their line of sight—be it a toy, a book or even a parent!
Gradually, they make connections, grasp ideas and theoretical concepts and develop an understanding that often enables them to apply different modes of thinking to the world around them. For example, an elder sibling figuring out why their younger sibling is crying and how to pacify them.
These examples of concrete thinking are proof that it’s an integral part of the process of learning how to acquire knowledge.
Concrete Thought: Advantages And Disadvantages
Now that we know what concrete thinking is and how crucial it is for learning, let’s assess its advantages and disadvantages.
Persons using concrete thought:
- Come quickly to the point and can reach conclusions fast. They can tune out distractions and other external ‘noise’ to focus on the practical aspects of work
- Demonstrate efficiency, especially in tasks that require repetitive skills. They’re pros at doing things the same way multiple times over, which is a boon in particular types of work profiles
- Can work independently without having to discuss ideas. They don’t need to spend time in groups clarifying perspectives and concepts and can follow mechanical instructions on their own
- Don’t let emotions impact the task at hand. They aren’t usually affected by their emotions or the vibes they receive from others in the workplace
On the flipside, concrete thinking can cause a person to:
- Appear adamant, inflexible and unwilling to see another viewpoint. By looking at a situation only as they perceive it, a concrete thinker can be dogmatic about assessing solutions
- They may fail to realize that there could genuinely be different ways to approach an issue
- Fail to grasp complex ideas with multiple facets. By taking a unidimensional approach rather than seeing the larger picture, they tend to overlook less tangible but important issues
- Be unable to generalize solutions that can be applied in similar circumstances. This restricts their ability to grasp abstract principles that may be useful on particular occasions
- Seem unwilling to acknowledge the emotions and feelings of other team members. By failing to appreciate subtle non-verbal signals from others, they often fail to empathize with colleagues and provide psychological support where needed
Examples Of Concrete Thinking At The Workplace
Let’s consider some professions where concrete thinking is beneficial.
Use of concrete thought helps where tasks are repetitive or sequential, such as adjustment of insurance claims, stock taking, masonry and construction work, banking and bus drivers operating on fixed routes. Many of these people work alone rather than in teams.
Concrete thinkers can also be good at supervisory jobs that need organizing things and people in routine, fixed ways. Some examples can be found in construction and engineering projects, particularly assembly-line setups in the latter. However, this is only applicable when people management isn’t an additional requirement.
Harappa’s Thinking Critically course will enhance your skills in studying and understanding a problem and help you choose the methodology to analyze it. It’s a course that will help early- and mid-career professionals from diverse fields. This includes certain areas of medical practice, human resources and talent management.
The program is designed to help individuals become mature and thinking professionals who can separate opinion from fact, and make insightful observations. The course offers several tools to help people process information better, and achieve their personal and professional goals.
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