Critical Thinking Skills: Definition and Examples

By Indeed Editorial Team

Published 12 June 2021

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

Leaders in the workplace need good critical thinking skills to make sound decisions on behalf of an organisation. These skills increase your ability to confidently assess a situation and choose between alternatives. The more you practise your critical thinking skills, the more refined your instinct will be when approaching dilemmas in business. You will be able to identify the shortcomings in your own performance and detect resources to help you overcome them.

In this article, we discuss what critical thinking skills are, why they are important and share examples of critical thinking skills that employers are looking for.

What are critical thinking skills?

Critical thinking skills are a set of techniques you can employ to evaluate a situation in order to determine the most effective response. You will need to think rationally and use logical reasoning to come to this conclusion. Critical thinking skills are a powerful resource in the workplace. They help you make decisions on how to act and what to believe. Critical thinkers can question assumptions, rather than simply accepting them at face value. Typically, business leaders rely on this skill to make responsible decisions on behalf of their co-workers and company.

A professional adept in critical thinking skills will display the following behaviours:

  • Understand the links between ideas

  • Construct and evaluate arguments

  • Detect inconsistencies in reasoning

  • Solve problems systematically

  • Determine the relevance and importance of arguments

  • Identify personal biases in the decision-making process

Critical thinking process

Critical thinking breaks down an idea or situation into different levels of analysis. At each level, you will want to investigate the options available to you from different perspectives. Here are a few questions to consider when critically evaluating an idea or situation:

  • Who is the owner of the idea? Seek to understand whether the person is knowledgeable about the subject matter. Identify if you have any preconceived notions about said individual or group.

  • What did they say? Evaluate the information they have shared with you. Consider whether it's their opinion or an actual fact to determine if you need any additional sources of advice.

  • Where did they disclose the information? Consider whether this was a private or public place and how this would impact the reliability of the information. Pay attention to how others react to it, too.

  • When was it brought to your attention? Assess the timeframe. Understand whether it occurred before, during or after an important event.

  • Why did they bring up the idea? Evaluate the intentions of the messenger. Find out their reasoning and how it impacts others.

  • How was the idea expressed? Examine the person's emotions through their word choice, tone of voice and body language to determine the reliableness of the information.

Why are critical thinking skills important?

Critical thinking skills are important because they encourage you to make informed decisions. As you gain more experience, you will need to apply critical thinking skills to manage projects and lead teams. Here are some of the benefits of having sound critical thinking skills:

Aims to achieve the best possible outcome

Critical thinking skills give you a holistic overview of an idea or situation. It makes you examine alternatives that may otherwise seem difficult. This fosters creative thinking and problem-solving. It ensures you do not limit your judgement. This way, you can reach the most viable decision for all parties involved. It aims to maximise the benefits to your organisation while minimising the costs.

Is crucial for self-reflection

Critical thinking skills encourage you to examine your own biases. It helps you identify whether you are in the right mindset to make an effective decision. This is especially important as a leader in the workplace. When a situation is too stressful, sometimes it's in your best interests to take a step back and come back to it with a calmer mind. Sometimes these biases may be because of a lack of alignment with your own expertise and beliefs. In this scenario, a critical thinker would identify a more capable professional to lead a project or decision.

Prevents costly mistakes

When you apply critical thinking skills, it helps you identify potential challenges in advance. This then gives you the opportunity to prepare measures to tackle problems so that they do not take you by surprise. Thus, critical thinking increases the likelihood of successful intervention. In return, you will be able to safeguard yourself from costly mistakes.

Encourages foresight

Effective decision-making requires you to pause and think about its impact on other people and business activities. Being able to detach from the urgency of a situation and explore other possibilities will help your organisation succeed in the long run. Sometimes a decision that seems difficult in the current market may actually make up for the costs tenfold in the future. Thus, critical thinking skills improve your foresight; and therefore; solidifies an organisation's future development.

Examples of critical thinking skills

Critical thinking skills consist of a variety of behaviours that work cohesively to help you detect, analyse and evaluate different perspectives. The following are examples of key critical thinking skills that are essential for business decision-making:

Observation skills

The first step in the critical thinking process is to identify the situation and its contributing factors. Observation skills train you to look out for issues or discrepancies before someone else can even bring them to your attention. They help you build a clear mental picture of a situation and how it impacts others. Visioning is key to pairing a problem with an appropriate response.

How to improve: You can work on your observation skills by asking more questions. This will give you a proper inventory of the situation at hand.

Analytical skills

Analytical skills describe your ability to gather appropriate data and identify trends. It's a key critical thinking skill that increases the reliability and validity of your judgement. It makes you consider the accuracy of your data, its context and the reliability of the source. Rather than depending on your existing knowledge, you can use research as a tool to deepen your understanding. Data-driven responses also produce more profitable results.

How to improve: If you have attained a qualification from an accredited university, you might have some formal training in research. You can continue to develop your analytical skills in your daily activities. For example, interactive board games and puzzles train your mind to spot clues and patterns.

Inference skills

When you make an inference, it means that you are using limited information to make a conclusion. It's a critical thinking skill that requires you to draw confidence from your existing expertise. As you become more experienced in your profession, you will begin to fine-tune your business instincts. Over time, you will find that your sense of judgement is more on point.

How to improve: Instead of making quick decisions, take the time to make an educated assessment. Carefully consider different perspectives and the resources at your disposal to cope with a situation.

Communication skills

Communication skills are important critical-thinking skills as you will need to collaborate with your co-workers throughout the decision-making process. When you feel you lack the proper abilities to deal with a crisis, you will need to attentively listen to experts to implement their advice into your strategic planning initiatives. Similarly, once you have decided on a goal, you will need to harness effective communication channels to prevent misunderstandings and maintain motivation.

How to improve: Examine your tone of voice, body language and facial expressions to determine how your communication style influences others. As a general rule to keep in mind, always aim to convey respect and integrity in all your interactions.

Problem-solving skills

Problem-solving skills require logic and imagination. The critical thinking skill allows you to use deductive reasoning to identify issues and explore appropriate solutions. The skills also encourage you to examine your own emotions. To be an effective problem-solver, you need to think with a calm mind. Through practice and experience, you will feel more comfortable with making decisions in challenging situations.

How to improve: You need to work on logic and reasoning to develop your problem-solving skills. Playing games, such as Sudoku and chess, are a fun yet effective way to build your confidence in the skill.

Creative thinking skills

Sometimes critical thinking may require you to come up with unconventional ideas. Creative thinking sets your business operations apart from others. It's more difficult to replicate; and therefore, could give you a competitive advantage. Key to this skill is your ability to be open to experience and embrace new ways of thinking.

How to improve: Consider working on your creative thinking skills outside of the workplace. Take up a hobby in writing, painting or designing to develop your imagination. Sometimes you might feel inspired by something completely unrelated to your project.

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