Career Development

10 Essential Critical Thinking Skills (And How to Improve Them)

July 26, 2021

Critical thinking skills allow you to understand and address situations based on all available facts and information. Typically, using critical thinking at work involves processing and organizing facts, data and other information to define a problem and develop effective solutions.

It’s a good idea to reflect on the critical thinking skills you already possess and which you may need to develop and highlight them on your resume and during interviews. In addition, you might consider setting goals and adopting practices to help you build the critical thinking skills necessary to succeed in your job.

In this article, we explain what critical thinking is, why it’s important and how you can improve your skills in this area.

What is critical thinking?

Critical thinking is the act of analyzing facts to understand a problem or topic thoroughly. The critical thinking process typically includes steps such as collecting information and data, asking thoughtful questions and analyzing possible solutions. For example, if you’re working in human resources and need to resolve a conflict between two employees, you will use critical thinking to understand the nature of the conflict and what action should be taken to resolve the situation.

How to think critically

Here are steps you might take when using critical thinking for problem-solving at work:
1. Identify a problem or issue.
2. Create inferences on why the problem exists and how it can be solved.
3. Collect information or data on the issue through research.
4. Organize and sort data and findings.
5. Develop and execute solutions.
6. Analyze which solutions worked or didn’t work.
7. Identify ways to improve the solution.

Being objective is a fundamental part of critical thinking. That means analyzing the problem without allowing personal bias, emotions or assumptions to influence how you think. A strong critical thinker will only analyze a problem based on the context and facts collected after conducting thorough and impartial research.

Why critical thinking is important

Critical thinking skills are essential in every industry at every career level, from entry-level associates to top executives. Good critical thinkers can work both independently and with others to solve problems.

Issues such as process inefficiencies, management or finances can be improved by using critical thought. Because of this, employers value and seek out candidates who demonstrate strong critical thinking skills.

Related: What’s the Importance of Critical Thinking in the Workplace?

Critical Thinking Skills
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Critical thinking skills:
1. Observation: The ability to notice and predict opportunities, problems and solutions.
2. Analysis: The gathering, understanding and interpreting of data and other information.
3. Inference: Drawing conclusions based on relevant data, information and personal knowledge and experience.
4. Communication: Sharing and receiving information with others verbally, nonverbally and in writing.
5. Problem solving: The process of gathering, analyzing and communicating information to identify and troubleshoot solutions.

5 critical thinking skills

Here are five common and impactful critical thinking skills you might consider highlighting on your resume or in an interview:

1. Observation

Observational skills are the starting point for critical thinking. People who are observant can quickly sense and identify a new problem. Those skilled in observation are also capable of understanding why something might be a problem. They may even be able to predict when a problem might occur before it happens based on their experiences.

Improve your observation skills by slowing down your pace of processing information and training yourself to pay closer attention to your surroundings. You might practice mindfulness techniques, journaling or actively listening during and outside of work to thoroughly examine what you’re hearing or seeing. Then, consider if you notice trends in behavior, transactions or data that might be helpful for your team to address.

Related: Inductive Reasoning: Definition and How To Use It

2. Analysis

Once a problem has been identified, analytical skills become essential. The ability to analyze and effectively evaluate a situation involves knowing what facts, data or information about the problem are important. This also often includes gathering unbiased research, asking relevant questions about the data to ensure it’s accurate and assessing the findings objectively.

Improve your analytical skills by taking on new experiences. For example, you might read a book about a concept you’re unfamiliar with or take an online math class to push yourself to think in new ways and consider new ideas. Doing so can help you build the skills to interpret new information and make rational decisions based on sound analysis.

Read more: Analytical Skills: Definitions and Examples

3. Inference

Inference is a skill that involves drawing conclusions about the information you collect and may require you to possess technical or industry-specific knowledge or experience. When you make an inference, that means you are developing answers based on limited information. For example, a car mechanic may need to infer what is causing a car’s engine to stall at seemingly random times based on the information available to them.

Improve your inference skills by placing focus on making educated guesses rather than quickly drawing conclusions. This requires slowing down to carefully look for and consider as many clues as possible—such as images, data or reports—that might help you evaluate a situation.

Related: Deductive Reasoning: Definition and Examples

4. Communication

Communication skills are important when it comes time to explain and discuss issues and their possible solutions with colleagues and other stakeholders.
Improve your communication skills within the context of critical thinking by engaging in difficult discussions, for example, in situations when you and another participant may disagree about the topic. Maintain good communication habits, such as active listening and respect, to understand other points of view and to be able to explain your ideas in a calm, rational manner. Doing so can help you evaluate solutions more effectively with your colleagues.

Read more: Communication Skills: Definitions and Examples

5. Problem-solving

After you’ve identified and analyzed a problem and chosen a solution, the final step is to execute your solution.
Problem-solving often requires critical thinking to implement the best solution and understand whether or not the solution is working as it relates to the goal.

Improve your problem-solving skills by setting goals to acquire more industry knowledge within your field. Problem-solving at work typically becomes easier if you have a strong understanding of industry-specific information. It can also be helpful to observe how others around you solve problems at work. Take note of their techniques and ask questions about their process.

Related: The Best Ways To Strengthen Your Logical Thinking Skills

More critical thinking skills

While the five skills listed above are essential to successful critical thinking, there are several soft skills that relate to thoughtful analysis. Here are some other skills to consider when developing your critical thinking:

Read more: How To Improve Your Soft Skills in the Workplace

How to improve your critical thinking skills

While you might already have many of the skills above, it may still be helpful to consider other areas for improvement—especially for specific skills listed on a job description. You can always improve your critical thinking skills through practice and extended educational opportunities.

To further improve your critical thinking skills, consider taking some of the following steps:

  • Expand your industry-specific or technical skills to help you more easily identify problems.
  • Take additional courses in your industry that require critical thinking and analysis.
  • Actively volunteer to solve problems for your current employer.
  • Seek advice from professionals in your field or desired industry.
  • Play solo and cooperative games that require critical thinking skills, such as analysis and inference.

Asking a friend, colleague or manager to assess your current skill set can also help provide you with an objective view of your strengths. You may find it beneficial or even necessary to practice your critical thinking skills to help build your resume or advance in your career.

Related: 6 Ways To Improve Critical Thinking at Work

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