How to improve critical thinking skills at work

July 12, 2022  •  Reading Time: 12 min.

5 key concepts to become a better critical thinker

Critical thinking is a sought-after soft skill – today more than ever.

Information is spread around the globe in real time, and if you want to keep up, you need not only a quick grasp, but above all the talent to sift through, analyze and correctly classify the accumulated knowledge. Therefore, we would like to introduce you to 5 key concepts of this highly valued skill and show you how to improve your critical thinking in no time and become a better critical thinker!

What is critical thinking?

Critical thinking describes the intellectually disciplined process of critically questioning one’s own decisions as well as the views and decisions of others. The process of critical thinking is important for skillfully conceptualizing and initiating potential course changes.

Good critical thinkers exhibit the following characteristics:

  • Questions are clearly formulated and presented for discussion.
  • Problem-solving: Solutions are found in a very thoughtful way, taking all criteria into account.
  • Divergent ways of thinking are received without bias and evaluated objectively.
  • Open communication takes place and all proposed solutions are taken into account.
  • The decisions made are viewed with a healthy dose of skepticism.

Examples of critical thinking

Circumstances that require critical thinking vary from industry to industry. Some examples include:

  • A nurse performing triage analyzes the cases at hand and decides on the order in which to treat patients.
  • A plumber evaluates the materials that are best for a particular job.
  • An attorney evaluates evidence and develops a strategy to win a case or decide whether to dismiss it.
  • A manager analyzes customer feedback forms and uses that information to develop customer service training for his employees.

4 phases of critical thinking

The Critical Thinking Roadmap is a framework that breaks critical thinking down into four measurable phases. Exactly what does it do? Thinking critically and the entire critical thinking process in everyday life and at work can be divided into these stages:

  • Execution: This is the stage that every employee goes through, simply doing what they are told to do at first. This seemingly simple phase requires skills such as logical thinking, decision making, and problem solving.
  • Synthesis: This is the phase where you sort out the information and find out what is important. One identifies all the results and can communicate them.
  • Recommendations: At this stage, recommendations are made instead of relying solely on the supervisor, alternatives are weighed, and arguments are backed up with solid facts.
  • Generation: The final phase of critical thinking is about turning ideas into plans, developing projects, and making decisions to improve work.

Why is critical thinking important?

While there are many other professional skills and soft skills that you develop and apply in your professional life, critical thinking skills are fundamental to your ability to engage others, solve problems, lead, motivate, and navigate an organizational environment. And like everything else in life, mastering critical thinking skills requires hard work and lots of practice.

In particular, a person with strong critical thinking skills can perform the following activities well:

  • Solve problems and recognize patterns.
  • Conduct effective data analysis.
  • Communicate opinions, ideas, and concerns.
  • Summarize and conceptualize data and make connections.
  • View information holistically and objectively.
  • Reason logically.

Critical thinking skills at work

Regardless of career path, professionals generally need a set of core competencies to succeed in the workplace. Here are four types of competencies you need to develop to get ahead:

  • Critical thinking: Your ability to see through ambiguous or complex issues or seemingly random events and turn them into meaningful patterns and insights.
  • Operational skills: Your capability to understand how the business makes money and translate resources into programs, revenue and profits as efficiently as possible.
  • Leadership skills: Your ability to create an environment in a time of uncertainty and ambiguity where individuals can give their best in terms of creativity and energy to the cause of your team/company.
  • Relationship skills: Your proficiency to cultivate effective internal and external relationships and communicate effectively with diverse audiences at all levels of your organization.

While there are many other skills you will develop and use in your professional life, these four are at the top of the list. They are fundamental to your capability to solve problems, lead, motivate, and navigate the organizational environment with others.

What are 5 important critical thinking skills?

Critical thinking is the process of analyzing information to find the best answer and new ideas to a question or problem.

In terms of leadership, critical thinking is the fundamental basis for understanding, analyzing, and solving complex problems that are among the greatest challenges faced by organizations and society. Ultimately, critical thinking is the fundamental basis that drives individuals and organizations to leave their comfort zone and learn new things, evolve, and grow overall.

However, there is no easy-to-implement recipe for improving one’s own critical thinking skills, the skills of one’s employees, or the skills of the entire organization. That’s why we’ve compiled five basic principles that can serve as a guide to improve your critical thinking skills:

1. Analysis

Part of critical thinking is the ability to examine something carefully, whether it is a problem, a set of data, or a text. In other words, people with analytical skills are able to examine information, process information, and correctly explain the implications of that information to others.

Analytical skills include:

  • Thoughtful questions
  • Data analysis
  • Personal knowledge
  • Research
  • Evaluation
  • Questioning evidence
  • Recognizing patterns
  • Predict opportunities
  • Skepticism

2. Communication

You will often need to share your conclusions with your employer or a group of colleagues. You have to be able to communicate with others to effectively convey your ideas. Always listen carefully (keyword: “active listening”) when others speak and ask follow-up questions or drop a critical thought. You may also need to think critically in a group setting or when there is little agreement. In this case, you will have to collaborate and communicate effectively and in a rational manner to find solutions to complex problems.

What you should practice to enhance your communication abilities:

  • Practice active listening
  • Evaluation
  • Collaboration
  • Explanation
  • Presentation
  • Interaction
  • Oral communication
  • Written communication

3. Creativity

Critical thinking frequently requires creativity and innovation. You may need to identify patterns in the data you are looking for, or find a solution that no one has thought of before. All of this requires a creative eye that takes a different approach than everyone else.

These are the most important elements of creative soft skills:

  • Flexibility
  • Conceptualization
  • Curiosity
  • Imagination
  • Drawing connections
  • Drawing conclusions
  • Prediction
  • Synthesis
  • Foresight

Tip: Use previous experience and facts to support your current decision through critical thinking.

4. Open-mindedness

To think critically, you must be able to set aside all assumptions and judgments and analyze only the information you receive. You need to be objective and evaluate ideas without bias.

Key features of open-mindedness:

  • Diversity
  • Justice
  • Humility
  • Holism
  • Objectivity
  • Monitoring
  • Reflection

5. Problem-solving

Problem solving is another critical thinking skill that involves analyzing a problem, finding and – as a final step – implementing a solution, and evaluating the success of the plan. Employers don’t just want employees who think critically about information. They also need to be able to come up with practical solutions and possible conclusions.

Any problem-solving procedure includes the following main elements:

  • Attention to detail
  • Clarification
  • Making decisions
  • Evaluation
  • Objectivity
  • Recognizing patterns
  • Innovation

How can you improve your critical thinking skills?

To learn or improve critical thinking, one must proceed methodically. In the beginning, you can use a checklist to argue and find solutions for certain decisions. Our brains naturally take mental shortcuts. Therefore, only with time does a certain amount of practice in the application of these methods set in, so that a change in one’s own thought processes becomes noticeable.

Checklist for critical thinking

  • Is the problem clearly stated?
  • Does the problem statement have the necessary level of detail?
  • Did you collect information about all thoughts on the problem?
  • Is the intent behind each new thought clear?
  • How does a new argument differ from existing ones?
  • Which thoughts are really important and best reflect reality?
  • Is there only one solution, or do multiple viewpoints need to be considered to find an overall solution for the individual and the community?
  • Is there a solution at all, or only a partial solution?
  • Are the arguments supported by data or observations?
  • Were the decisions made based on clear evidence?
  • What are the consequences of a decision made?
  • What are the negative consequences associated with the decision made?
  • Were all points of view treated fairly?
  • Were all stakeholders involved in the decision making?
  • Is the collectively reached solution better than the ideas and suggestions of one individual?

Practical exercises to strengthen critical thinking skills

Especially when you need to make high-impact decisions, it is important to practice your skills of processing information critically during or before the decision-making process. To improve your abilities to think more critically, a starting point would be to go through the following exercises:

1. Find a problem and take it over

Why it works: In every organization, there are vexing problems that no one claims to solve for themselves. When you figure out how to solve this problem, you expand your critical thinking skills.

Here’s how: Find an orphan problem and ask your boss to help you solve it. For cross-functional problems, you’ll need to assemble a team. Lead your team through the stages of analyzing the problem, interviewing key stakeholders, and developing potential solutions. You will be visible as a leader and problem solver.

A good way to solve a difficult problem is by reversing things or to ask basic questions. It may be obvious that X is the cause of Y, but what if Y was the cause of X?

The “chicken and egg problem” is a classic example of this. At first glance, it seems obvious that the chicken had to come first. After all, the chicken lays the egg. But then you quickly realize that the chicken must have come from somewhere, and since chickens come from eggs, the egg must have been there first. Or was it?

Tip: When trying to solve a problem, it is always helpful to look at other work in the same area and evaluate the existing evidence. It also helps to put things in your own words.

2. Build a team for the problem

Why it works: Better thinkers: a whole team helps you reach multiple points of view, allows for redefinition of problems and issues and brings in various approaches and a whole new intellectual level to solve the problem at hand. This is a powerful application of your critical thinking skills and a smart possibility to find an effective solution.

Here’s how: Lead your team through structured activities to generate solutions to problems. Work with your team to evaluate problems from multiple perspectives and develop alternative solutions. For example, a competitor’s announcement may be viewed as a threat. However, you should guide the team in collecting data, analyzing and developing countermeasures, and try to define the situation as an opportunity.

3. Keep a journal to record successes and failures

Why it works: Evaluate your own work by reviewing your assumptions and logic and comparing the expected results with the actual results. This will give you insight into your own strengths and weaknesses in decision making and critical thinking.

Here’s how: Write down key decisions and expected outcomes, and look at these entries over time. In this way, you can determine the effectiveness of your decision making by exercising your critical thinking skills.

Conclusion

Learning and progress have always been closely associated with leaving one’s comfort zone, foregoing what was previously taken for granted, and a healthy dose of skepticism. The ability to generate high-quality knowledge is a competitive advantage for every organization and also for every individual. Critical thinking, which has made a major contribution to the development of mankind, will therefore continue to gain in importance in the future.

Critical thinkers are in high demand in the working world, because companies always need better, more informed solutions. Critical thinking simply helps you do your job better.

Tip: Also check out our article about the top 10 soft skills in the workplace and learn whether critical thinking is one of them!

Frequently asked Questions about Critical Thinking

What are 3 critical thinking strategies?

Challenge your own beliefs and own opinions: “What if” questions serve to gain new perspectives and sharpen your thinking in this way.
Think with logic: Pay close attention to the chain of reasoning behind each of your arguments; make sure the evidence supports your idea at every point.
Vary your thoughts: Get yourself to break out of your usual way of thinking and consider alternative ideas or insights. This will broaden your horizons and make you a better thinker.

Why does critical thinking matter?

Critical thinking enables people to question things and is thus directly related to the psychological need for autonomy and competence, which in turn has positive effects on our motivation and emotional intelligence. The biggest benefit of thinking more critically is that it helps you make more informed decisions in your everyday life.

How can I learn to think critically?

– Keep your goals in mind.
– Practice an objective point of view.
– Consider the consequences of your options.
– Allow new things to happen.
– Accept that you are not always right.
– Dissect decisions.
– Don’t make things too complicated.

Are critical thinking skills important in job interviews?

Employers want candidates who can use critical thinking skills to evaluate a situation, view a problem from different perspectives and offer the best solution. Critical thinking skills are among the most sought-after skills in every industry and workplace – and are sometimes even listed in the job description. You can demonstrate critical thinking by using keywords in your resume and cover letter, as well as during your interview.