Robert J. Barbato

Robert Barbato Headshot

Robert J. Barbato is a Professor of Management and Miller Chair in International Education in the Department of Management and International Business in the Saunders College of Business.  This month, he shares with us how critical thinking intertwines with the business world with a focus on business ethics.  Read his answers to a few critical thinking questions here:

1. How Do You Teach Applied Critical Thinking?

My MBA students and I wrestle with lots of cases that pose dilemmas to a manager in an organization. Since there are no right answers, students begin the course with the wrong assumption that every opinion has equal merit. However, as we debate and discuss the cases, it quickly becomes clear that weaker arguments do not attempt to see the issue from an opposing point of view. I was recently asked by a student how I make the judgment that their analysis is worthy of an A grade, and I explain to them that the best students put a lot of effort into presenting the opposing argument in the strongest way possible, and then show how their argument is more persuasive. It is wonderful to see how quickly students learn to see the wisdom of those who disagree and respect their way of thinking.

2. Why Do You Think Applied Critical Thinking is Important in Your Domain?

I teach a course in Business Ethics, and we quickly discover that most moral transgressions are not the predictable outcomes of corrupt individuals. It is more often the case that good people do bad things. Why is this? We are now aware that psychological phenomena often result in ethical fading and self-serving biases that can lead any individual astray. Critical thinking skills are very useful in helping us navigate the ethical landscape in an objective way that mitigates against these psychological traps.

3. Can You Share a Story Where Quality Applied Critical Thinking Was Key to Your Success?

One of the hardest things to do is give someone negative feedback. You have to achieve a very delicate balance between getting your point across but doing it in a way that evokes a positive emotion and a commitment to change. A critical thinker benefits from a clarity and an objectivity that helps strike the right emotional tone and lead an individual toward a positive outcome.

4. How Do You Use Critical Thinking in Other Areas of Your Life Outside of RIT?

I used to be an elected official, and a good politician will find solutions that work for different constituencies that have competing interests. It requires good balance, authenticity, and sincerity of purpose; and critical thinking skills are essential. Believe me; people know when you are not being honest or fair.

5. Any Last Critical Thoughts?

We don’t have to look far to see why critical thinking is so necessary today. Please keep up the good work.