Critical thinking is a vital soft skill that uses one’s experiences and analytical skills to deduce information and make educated decisions. It’s an essential skill to have in the workplace, as the ability to use information from a broader and more impartial perspective allows your employees to make more informed decisions and see a comprehensive view of any situation.
The U.S. Department of Labor identified critical thinking as a key component for essential workplace skills, including problem-solving and decision-making. Here’s how to build – and implement – critical thinking skills in the workplace.
>> Learn more: 12 Business Skills You Need to Master
How to use critical thinking to problem-solve
Here is a six-step problem-solving process to try with your team to build and use this skill.
1. Name the situation.
When you name the situation, you present a single discussion point that everyone in the discussion can identify. This statement can be written on a whiteboard as a visual prompt so that the team can focus on the point and redirect the discussion when the topic shifts. Critical thinking involves keeping an open mind about situations. You help participants remember the goal of the group by naming the situation.
2. List all possible solutions.
Brainstorming takes place during this part of the process. There is nothing outside the realm of possibilities at this point in the discussion. When you open the conversation to unlimited options, you expand thinking beyond one person. The ability to expand your thinking offers the conversation many possible solutions that you may not have considered without the expression of thoughts and opinions. Make sure that all potential solutions discussed during this time stay on task for the situation that has been named in the first step. Critical thinking includes the ability to keep an open mind to other considerations and viewpoints without losing track of the end goal. You expand the discussion to see new options and stay on task by identifying multiple opportunities.
3. Narrow your solutions to three options.
Everyone on the team needs to agree with at least one of the three options. Individuals who can find a compromise and create solutions from many perspectives are better able to bring a team together. Write each solution at the top of a whiteboard and include below each one a list of its advantages and disadvantages. Critical-thinking skills offer the ability to look at situations rationally without judgments of good and bad or wrong and right. You can maintain a rational discussion when you bring consensus to a few intentionally chosen solutions.
Critical thinking helps individuals look at situations from multiple sides and imagine several ways to respond.
4. Choose one option from the three choices.
Make a final choice that offers the best chance of success based on rational discussion about the situation. Review this choice in relation to how well it solves the designated problem. Critical thinking skills help individuals use a more systematic way to come to conclusions. This reduces the chance of making decisions based on incorrect inferences arising from emotional conclusions.
5. Put a plan in place to implement the chosen solution.
Your chosen solution should have timelines and a list that identifies which participants are responsible for what parts of the final plan. Critical-thinking skills include the ability to commit to the chosen solution. You increase attention to detail and interest from the participants in implementing the solution when they are an integral part of the process.
6. Complete the plan.
Some employees find this part of the process the most difficult. Think of the number of times a great plan floundered because there was no follow-up. Make sure each person from the team has a part to play in the process that emphasizes their areas of expertise and interest. Complete regular reviews of people and timelines for project management. Critical thinking involves the ability to see the value of the overall plan. At this point in the process, individuals should be able to see the value of the solution and have buy-in since they were part of the process.
This problem-solving process creates an environment where critical thinking becomes a working part of finding a solution. For individuals who struggle with this method, you may want to consider some training in critical thinking. Overall, though, this process promotes critical thinking in your employees. You can also integrate this activity for making plans and creating a mission. The value added to your organization includes improved engagement, insight and productivity from your team.
According to research from America Succeeds, durable skills – such as critical thinking – accounted for 7 out of 10 requested skills in a study of 82 million job postings.
Why critical thinking is essential in the workplace
In recent decades, companies have recognized the need for integrating critical thinking into the workplace to help build the success of their organizations. Strong critical-thinking skills can greatly benefit everybody in the workplace. Not only does thinking more openly introduce ideas and solutions that widen the opportunities for success, but it also provides an increase in teamwork and productivity and a decrease in conflict. Here are some additional benefits of critical thinking in the workplace.
Required in certain professions
In many professions – particularly those based on research or that require deductive reasoning, such as finance, education, research and law – acquiring critical-thinking skills is necessary. With critical thinking, employees can solve problems objectively by considering varying perspectives and analyzing facts without bias, allowing for smart decision-making and problem-solving.
Those with critical-thinking skills mull over their decisions thoroughly by researching, looking at information objectively, asking questions, and weighing the pros and cons before acting. This skill can help businesses stay on track when making decisions by thoroughly reviewing the risk versus reward of each decision.
Critical thinking can boost happiness, as it is empowering to have the skills to make your own, well-informed decisions. Those who possess this skill are more in tune with their goals, needs and personal ethics, and they have a better understanding of what in their situation needs to change to make themselves happy or grow. [Read related article: How Hiring a Chief Happiness Officer Can Save Your Business]
One of the main reasons businesses don’t embrace critical thinking as an essential part of their organization is that they feel they are just too busy; however, the benefits of critical thinking are invaluable to a team.
How to build critical-thinking skills
Here are a few ways you can polish your critical-thinking skills.
Practice active listening.
Practice actively listening by keeping an open mind and being attentive to those around you, from associates to executives. Listen to what others are saying to gain an understanding of each person’s individual perspective, needs and expectations, and show them empathy. This level of understanding will allow you to work together more effectively and make decisions that everyone is satisfied with.
Ask critical questions.
Instead of taking information at face value, be curious and ask questions to ensure you have everything you need to make a well-informed decision. Using open-ended questions offers an opportunity for further exploration, as they dive deeper and provide insightful details that can be helpful when making decisions.
Vet new information.
Don’t assume all new information you hear is true; instead, take time to thoroughly vet it by ensuring it’s up to date and it comes from a trustworthy source. Look at the existing evidence and the new facts being presented, then question thought processes and consider whose voice is missing.
Consider more than one perspective.
While you may feel that you have the “right” perspective, consider all points of view to fully understand others and their reasoning. This will help you improve your working relationships, better understand where your peers are coming from and tailor your communication to meet their needs.
Question your own biases.
Regardless of whether or not you try to avoid it in your decision-making process, everybody has their own biases, which are the foundation of their thinking. By uncovering your own biases and being actively aware of them, you can grow as a critical thinker and work to keep them separate from your decision-making process.
If there are any unanswered questions or gaps in the information provided, conduct research to further your understanding and reach a decision. Consider a source’s intention when conducting research, avoiding any that are sales-based or contain ill will. Don’t use social media to obtain information; stick to reputable publications free of bias and cite their sources.
Form your own opinion.
Be an independent thinker and form your own opinions by considering the information presented to you, including facts and evidence. Listen to and consider the opinions of others, but use deductive reasoning to form your own opinion – and stay true to it.
Lynette Reed contributed to the writing and reporting in this article.