Thinking Skills: Definition, Examples and Tips

By Indeed Editorial Team

Published 30 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.

Thinking skills refer to your ability to understand and address problems based on all available information and facts. Using critical thinking skills at work often involves organising and processing data, facts and other information to understand a problem and create effective solutions. Understanding your thinking skills can help you become a better decision-maker. In this article, we discuss what thinking is, why it's important, what are the different types of thinking skills and provide a few tips to help you improve your thinking skills.

What are thinking skills?

Critical thinking skills refer to your ability to analyse facts to understand a topic, problem or situation thoroughly. The critical thinking process usually includes the steps such as gathering data and information, asking relevant questions and analysing possible solutions. For instance, if you're working as a human resources manager, you may need to resolve conflicts among employees. Hence, you'll need to use your critical thinking skills to understand the conflict and determine the best solution.

Being objective is essential to critical thinking. This means you analyse the issue without allowing assumptions, emotions or personal bias to affect how you think about the issue. Rather, a strong critical thinker can analyse the issue based on the context and information gathered after carrying out impartial and thorough research.

The critical thinking process

Here are the additional steps you might take when you use your critical thinking skills for solving a problem at work:

  • Determine what the conflict is

  • Create inference on why the conflict occurs and how you can resolve it

  • Gather data or information about the issue through investigation or research

  • Organise and categorise data and findings

  • Develop and implement solutions

  • Analyse what solutions are effective

  • Find out how you can improve the solution

Related: Important Soft Skills Employers in Hong Kong Look For

Why are critical thinking skills important?

Thinking skills are crucial at every career level in every industry. Individuals who possess thinking skills can work well both with others and independently to address problems, such as financial issues, management issues and process inefficiencies. For this reason, companies value and prefer applicants who show strong thinking skills.

Related: 10 Best Skills to Include on a CV

Types of thinking

There are three main types of thinking. These include:

Convergent thinking

Convergent thinking means using logic. Also known as linear or critical thinking, convergent thinking generally refers to your ability to provide 'correct' answers to standard questions that don't require significant creativity, such as questions related to most tasks in schools and standardised tests. Convergent thinking focuses on developing a single, well-established answer to a problem. When you use convergent thinking to solve an issue, you consciously use probabilities or standards to make judgements.

Divergent thinking

Divergent thinking refers to your ability to use your imagination. Also known as horizontal or creative thinking, divergent thinking is a thought process used to develop ideas by exploring several possible solutions. When you use divergent thinking, your thoughts usually occur in a spontaneous, free-flowing way. You explore many possible solutions in a short period of time and unexpected connections are more easily drawn. After you complete the process of divergent thinking, you use convergent thinking to organise and structure ideas and information.

Lateral thinking

Lateral thinking refers to your ability to use both logic and imagination. Also known as creative thinking, lateral thinking involves solving issues through a creative and indirect approach. It can involve ideas that might not be obtainable by using only traditional step-by-step logic and using reasoning that's not immediately obvious. To better understand lateral thinking, it's important to compare divergent and convergent thinking and create a working relationship between the two types.

Five types of critical thinking skills

There are five common and impactful thinking skills you can consider discussing in your CV or in a job interview. These include:

Observational skills

Observational skills are the foundation of critical thinking. If you have strong observation skills, you can easily sense and identify a problem before it becomes worse. You may even be able to foresee when an issue might happen before it occurs based on your experience. To improve your observation skills, you can slow down the pace at which you process information and train yourself to focus on your surroundings. Consider practising mindfulness strategies, journaling or active listening outside and during work to examine thoroughly what you're seeing or hearing.

Analytical skills

Once you have identified a problem, your analytical skills become crucial. The ability to analyse and assess a problem effectively involves knowing what information, data or facts about the issue are important. Also, this often includes conducting unbiased research, asking pertinent questions about the information to make sure it's accurate and evaluating the findings objectively.

To improve your analytical skills, you can take on new experiences. For instance, you might read a book or journal about a topic you are unfamiliar with or take an online course to motivate yourself to think innovatively and consider new ideas. This can help you develop the skills to interpret or understand new information and make informed decisions based on sound analysis.

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Inference skills

Inference refers to your ability to draw conclusions about the data you have gathered. It's a skill that may require you to have industry-specific or technical experience or knowledge. When you make an inference, you draw conclusions based on limited information. For instance, if you're a car mechanic, you may need to infer what's causing a car's engine to stop at seemingly random occasions based on the information available to you.

To improve your inference skills, consider focusing on making educated guesses instead of quickly making conclusions. This may require you to slow down and find several clues, such as reports, data and images, which can help you assess a situation. Before you make a decision, it's important to consider all pieces of information carefully.

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Communications skills

Communication skills refer to your ability to speak appropriately with a wide range of people while maintaining good eye contact, tailoring your language to your audience and listening effectively. Excellent communicators also employ clear and concise writing skills. Communication skills are crucial when discussing issues and their potential solutions with coworkers or company leaders.

Communication is an important skill to improve on for several purposes at work, including critical thinking. To improve your communication skills, you can engage in difficult discussions. For instance, watch yourself when talking to people who hold different viewpoints from you. Also, consider maintaining good communication habits, such as respect and active listening, to understand their viewpoints and explain your ideas calmly and rationally.

Related: Interview Question: “What Are Your Strengths and Weaknesses?”

Problem-solving skills

Once you have identified a problem, analyse it and explore potential solutions before implementing one. Problem-solving typically requires you to think critically to determine the best solution and to understand whether the solution achieves your goals.

To improve your problem-solving skills, you can set goals to gain more knowledge within your industry or field. Problem-solving at work can be easier if you have a broad knowledge of industry-specific information. It may also be helpful to learn from your coworkers or colleagues. You can observe how they solve problems. Note down their strategies and ask relevant questions about their process.

Related: How to Write SMART Goals For Your Career (With Examples)

Additional tips for improving your thinking skills

You might already have several of the skills mentioned above, but it may still be a good idea to consider other areas for improvement, especially for specific skills mentioned in a job advertisement. You can always improve your ability to think critically through practice and training opportunities. To further improve your thinking skills, consider some of the following tips:

  • Seek professional help: Seek advice from industry experts or professionals in your field.

  • Volunteer actively: Volunteer actively to solve problems for your present employer.

  • Complete a course or training programme: Take an additional training programme in your field or industry that requires you to employ your analytical and critical thinking skills.

  • Expand your skills: Expand your technical or industry-specific skills to help you easily identify problems.

  • Play mental agility games: Play cooperative or solo games that require inference, analysis and other critical thinking skills.

  • Ask for guidance: Ask your friends, manager or colleagues to evaluate your current skill set. Ask them to give you an objective view of your strengths.

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