Reflective Judgment

Reflective judgment—the ability to evaluate and process information in order to draw plausible conclusions—is one of the most critical leadership skills. People move through three different phases (pre-reflective judgment, quasi-reflective judgment, and reflective thinking) as they learn to develop their judgment skills.

During the pre-reflective thinking period, people acquire knowledge through experience, observations, evaluation, and authority figures. All information collected is seen as absolute and the truthfulness of the data is not questioned. Problems and challenges views through this lens are resolved with well-structured assumptions and people are certain about the effect of their solutions. This phase has three stages itself. People in the first stage see knowledge as absolute and concrete. Different beliefs are not seen and/or believed. The second stage is exemplified by a similar view, namely that knowledge is certain and absolute, but it is understood that knowledge is not always immediately available. People in this stage also heavily rely on authority figures to get their knowledge from and there is no critical thinking. The third stage embodies knowledge that is either certain or uncertain for a short period of time. If knowledge is uncertain, people in this stage rely on personal beliefs. Authority figures still play an essential role in providing information and all their information is seen as absolute.

The second developmental phase for reflective judgment is the quasi-reflective thinking phase. During this period, people start to recognize and understand that not all information is completely accurate or absolute. Additionally, people acknowledge that claims from authority figures also contain some uncertainty. This uncertainty can be caused by missing or incomplete information or by the methods that were used to gather information. People in this phase use evidence to draw conclusions, but they do not yet understand to process of how to get to a sound conclusion. In this phase, there are two different stages. During the first stage, people understand that knowledge is not absolute or certain. People also acknowledge that there is always a sense of ambiguity in knowledge. In the next stage, context starts playing a significant role. People start to understand that knowledge is bound by a certain context and that it is therefore more subjective than initially assumed. Conclusions are sometimes delayed, because knowledge is created through individual perceptions of reality. During both these stages, information from authority figures are thus not seen and absolute, but as more subjective and uncertain.

The third developmental period of reflective judgment is reflective thinking. In this phase, people understand that knowledge is never certain or absolute. However, instead of becoming stuck because of this understanding, people in this phase work to make conclusions that are reasonable. Knowledge and knowledge claims are actively evaluated based on their context. Critical thinking is an important part of this phase, as knowledge is judged and reflected upon prior to making conclusions. This phase also has two different stages: in the first stage, people understand that knowledge is not absolute and certain. However, information is evaluated and judged by comparing evidence and different opinions about the information. During this stage, the solutions people create are based on certain criteria, for example if the solution is pragmatic. During the final stage of reflective judgment, knowledge is created and accepted through a reasonable inquiry process that promotes critical thinking. The solutions are evaluated based on their probability and reasonableness.



-Lotte Mulder earned her Master’s of Education from the Harvard Graduate School of Education in 2013, where she focused on Leadership and Group Development. She’s currently working toward a PhD in Organizational Leadership. At ASCP, Lotte designs and facilitates the ASCP Leadership Institute, an online leadership certificate program. She has also built ASCP’s first patient ambassador program, called Patient Champions, which leverages patient stories as they relate to the value of the lab.

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