How to make Thinking Tools work for you: Critical Thinking
Critical thinking is about analysing the information you have to get the best answer to a question or problem. Drawing on your own experience, reasoning, observation and communication with others, you can make informed decisions that give positive solutions.
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 level with your team to form stronger working relationships
- Evaluate your own work to determine ways to improve quality
- Develop better comprehension skills, both in conversation and reading
These skills are essential, 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.
5 important critical thinking skills
- Problem solving
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 experience.
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.
Once a problem has been identified, analysis skills become essential. The ability to analyse and effectively evaluate a situation involves knowing what facts, data or information about the problem are important. This also 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.
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 look for as many clues as possible—such as images, data or reports—that might help you evaluate a situation. Carefully consider all the pieces of the puzzle together before deciding.
Communication skills are important when it comes to explaining and discussing issues and their possible solutions with colleagues. Communication is an important skill to have and improve on for many purposes at work including critical thinking.
Improve your communication skills within the context of critical thinking by engaging in difficult discussions, for example, where you may hold differing views about the topic. Cultivate strong communication habits like active listening and respect to try to understand others’ perspectives. Always take time to explain your ideas in a calm, rational manner. This can help prepare you to evaluate solutions more effectively with colleagues.
After you’ve identified a problem, analysed and explored possible remedies, the final step is to implement the solution.
Problem-solving often requires critical thinking to implement the best solution and understand whether 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. 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.
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. 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.
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