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Critical thinking is the process of analyzing information to get the best answer to a question or problem. By drawing upon your own experience, reasoning, observation and communication with others, you can make informed decisions that yield positive solutions.
In this article, we’ll show you how to improve your critical thinking skills in the workplace so you can become a more effective employee.
Why critical thinking is important
Critical thinkers are in high demand in the workplace because companies always need better, more informed solutions. More specifically, critical thinking at work helps you:
- Improve decision-making, evaluate an argument’s validity and its potential impact
- Form your own opinions on a topic, develop your personal ethics and confidence
- Engage on a deeper, more intellectual level with your coworkers and supervisors to form stronger working relationships
- Evaluate your own work to determine ways to improve quality and efficiency
- Develop better comprehension skills, both in conversation and reading
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.
Steps of Critical Thinking
- Identify the problem or question. Be specific about the question you are asking.
- Gather and organize information. Find several sources that present different perspectives and points of view. This will ensure that you are not creating bias by only presenting data that supports your initial view.
- Analyze the data and sources. Evaluate the credibility and reliability of your sources of information. Look for bias in your methods of gathering data.
- Determine the significance of data. Establish which information is most important to the problem at hand. You may or may not have enough relevant information to make an informed decision.
- Make a decision. Of the various possible conclusions, which one is supported by the evidence.
- Communicate your conclusion. Present your final decision to stakeholders
How to improve critical thinking
Here are several ways to improve critical thinking skills in the workplace to become a stronger employee:
- Become more self-aware.
- Understand your mental process.
- Develop foresight.
- Practice active listening.
- Ask questions.
- Evaluate existing evidence.
1. Become more self-aware
Becoming more self-aware means considering your thought process, values, morals, ethics and other beliefs. What do you believe in? How do your thoughts reflect these values? Think objectively about your likes and dislikes. Knowing what your personal preferences, strengths/weaknesses and biases are can help you better understand why you approach specific situations from a certain perspective.
2. Understand your mental process
Identify and evaluate how you receive and process information. Understanding how you listen, then interpret, and finally react to information is vital to becoming more mentally efficient in the workplace.
Being a critical thinker means you recognize your own prejudices and how they influence solutions and decisions. Taking time to analyze your mental process before making a work decision can help you act more objectively.
3. Develop foresight
Consider how others might feel about a situation or decision you make. Determine the possible outcomes of a situation and what might change, both positively and negatively. Having the foresight to predict how your actions at work will produce reactions will help you make the right choice.
4. Practice active listening
Active listening is a foundational element of effective critical thinking. Listen carefully and attentively while coworkers and supervisors are talking. Practice empathy and focus on understanding their perspective(s). Gaining a full understanding of what they want, need or expect can help you react positively and have a subsequent productive conversation.
5. Ask questions
When you’re not sure, always ask questions. Start with what you already know and confirm you have all of the details correct. Ask to have points repeated or consider rephrasing in your own words to determine whether you’ve accurately understood. Consider asking follow-up questions to get details that may have been left out or misheard. Follow up by asking yourself if something is a fact, an opinion or an idea. This step can help you assign purpose and value to a piece of information.
6. Evaluate existing evidence
Use previous experience and facts to help you make your current decision through critical thinking. Have you encountered a similar project or challenge before? What did you learn from that experience? By conducting research, sorting facts and using previous experience as existing evidence you can arrive at a more applicable and effective solution to work with in your present.
Tips for improving critical thinking skills
There are many ways to improve your critical thinking skills during your career development, including:
Meeting with a mentor
Having a mentor can help you develop a variety of skills in addition to being able to collaborate on solutions and decisions. They can help you focus while using critical thinking techniques, or they may have resources to help you improve your critical thinking skills.
Participating in team-building exercises
Many team-building exercises aim to improve critical thinking skills, both for groups and individuals. If your organization employs these exercises, be sure to participate. If your organization does not, consider introducing your team to examples during a meeting to gain similar benefits.
Related: 6 Ideas for Team Building Activities
Asking for leadership opportunities
As a leader, you may be required to manage conflict resolution and make important decisions. These responsibilities are real-world experiences that require keen critical thinking skills. Consider asking to lead a new project or assist a team member in training to refine these skills.