9 Essential Critical Thinking Skills and How To Develop Them

Updated 24 August 2023

Skills in critical thinking allow you to understand and address situations based on all available facts and information. These skills are valuable in all industries and can help professionals address complicated problems. Because these skills are so valuable in the job market, it can benefit people in most industries to develop them. In this article, we explore examples of critical thinking skills and their importance and share steps to help you learn how to develop them.

Why are critical thinking skills important?

Critical thinking skills are important because they can improve your qualifications and advance your career. These skills are essential in every industry at every career level, from entry-level associates to top executives. Good critical thinkers can work both independently and with others to solve problems. Professionals who have such skills can solve issues such as process inefficiencies, management or finances. Because of this, employers value and seek out candidates who demonstrate these qualities.

Related: What's the Importance of Critical Thinking in the Workplace?

What is critical thinking?

Critical thinking is the act of analysing facts to understand a problem or topic thoroughly. The critical thinking process typically includes steps such as collecting information and data, asking thoughtful questions and analysing possible solutions. For example, if you're working in human resources and tasked to resolve a conflict between two employees, you can use critical thinking to understand the nature of the conflict and what action to take to resolve the situation.

Related: What Are Analytical Skills and Why Are They Important for Employment?

9 examples of critical thinking skills

Here are some examples of critical thinking skills you may use in the workplace:

1. Problem-solving

Problem-solving often requires critical thinking to implement the best solution and understand whether the solution is working as it relates to the goal. This skill can become easier to develop when you have more industry-specific knowledge. To help you advance your problem-solving abilities, observe how others around you solve problems at work. Take note of their techniques and ask questions about their process.

Related: Problem-Solving Skills Examples (With Steps to Develop Them)

2. Curiosity

Curiosity often encourages professionals to learn more about their surroundings. Fostering your curiosity in the workplace can help you learn more about your industry and try new approaches to your work tasks. This is a key step in critical thinking, so try to make more observations about your environment and motivate yourself to ask more questions about the conventions and common practices of your work.

Related: Thinking Divergently: What It Is and How to Implement It

3. Observation

Observational skills are the starting point for critical thinking. People who are observant can quickly sense and identify a new problem. When you're skilled in observation, you can understand why something might be a problem. You might practise 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 behaviour, transactions or data that might be helpful for your team to address.

​Related: ​20 Critical Thinking Questions You Can Ask Job Candidates

4. Analysis

The ability to analyse and effectively evaluate a situation involves knowing what facts, data or information about the problem are important. This also often 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. This can help you build the skills to interpret new information and make rational decisions based on sound analysis.

5. Communication

Communication skills are important when it comes time to explain and discuss issues and their possible solutions with colleagues and other stakeholders. To improve your communication skills within the context of critical thinking, engage in difficult discussions. Maintain good communication habits, such as active listening and respect, to understand other points of view and to be able to explain your ideas in a calm, rational manner. Doing so can help you evaluate solutions more effectively with your colleagues.

6. Creativity

Creativity skills allow you to consider alternate and innovative solutions to a problem. Often, thinking creatively requires you to observe current practices and imagine how you can contribute to or improve them. To exhibit your creative skills at work, try to approach problems with an unconventional approach and try new practices.

Related: How To Show Your Creativity at Work (Plus Examples)

7. Decision-making

Thinking critically often allows you to consider each option and predict the outcomes of your choice. This can help you become more skilled at making decisions. Decision-making skills are essential for professionals in leadership positions, as well as those who hope to become more independent in their work.

8. Inductive reasoning

Inductive reasoning is a method of analysis in which you make a reasonable conclusion based on a series of observations and hypotheses. Usually, this method involves applying your knowledge of experiences to a new set of data in order to make a prediction about the present or future. For example, you might notice that your team members use more paid time off around holiday seasons, from which you can infer that some of your colleagues might be absent from work near New Year's weekend.

You can improve your inductive reasoning skills by focusing on making educated guesses rather than quickly drawing conclusions. To do this, consider various forms of evidence and make conclusions about how they relate to each other.

Related: Inductive vs. Deductive Reasoning: Differences and How To Improve

9. Objectivity

Being objective involves recognising your personal biases and considering how they might affect your actions, assumptions and decisions. This is an essential step in critical thinking, as it allows you to continue with your work while remaining impartial and motivated by facts rather than assumptions. Objectivity is especially important for professionals in leadership positions, but it's a helpful skill for you to have regardless of your position or the industry in which you work.

Related: 15 Examples of Academic Skills (And How to Improve Them)

How to develop critical thinking skills

While you might already have many of the skills above, it may still be helpful to consider other areas for improvement—especially for specific skills listed on a job description. You can always improve your deep thinking skills through practice and extended educational opportunities. To further improve these skills, consider taking some of the following steps:

1. Expand your industry-specific or technical skills

Expanding your industry-specific knowledge can help you identify problems within your workplace. Understanding industry standards helps you gauge what is normal production practices for your workplace and notice when you can improve a work habit. To discover which topics to research, ask your supervisor for guidance or find resources that detail the professional expectations for your field.

For example, if you're working as a copywriter, understanding SEO can be a very valuable skill. Though you may not understand this topic when you first start working, you can research SEO and seek certification to help you incorporate it into your work and notice when a piece you've written can improve its SEO.

2. Take additional courses in your industry

Take courses and attend conferences that require critical thinking and analysis. This can help you expand your industry-specific skills, consider taking a workshop or certification course to learn more about your profession. You can also research specific skills or find a mentor within your field to help you.

3. Solve problems for your current employer

Practising your critical thinking skills can be one of the best ways to develop them. To practise critical thinking and solve problems for your current employer, consider following these basic steps:

  • Identify a potential issue. Using your industry knowledge, recognise issues within your workplace. Try to create more efficient work practices or predict future issues.

  • Research solutions. Once you've identified an issue, conduct research to find an objective way to fix it. This can include researching industry practices or surveying your team members.

  • Consider your biases. In order to remain objective and create an effective solution, consider how your personal biases might affect your skills in critical thinking.

  • Make inferences. Using your research and experiences, make predictions about the future of the issue and the implications of your inference.

  • Determine the relevance of your conclusion. Once you've reached a conclusion to your critical thought process, consider how it affects your work and the impact it can have on the issue.

Related: Research Skills: Definition, Examples and Importance

4. Seek advice

Ask for advice from professionals in your field or desired industry. Asking a friend, colleague or manager to assess your current skill set can also help provide you with an objective view of your strengths. You may find it beneficial or even necessary to practise your critical thinking skills to help build your resume or advance in your career.

5. Play solo and cooperative games that require critical thinking skills

In your spare time, consider playing games and participating in exercises that require critical thought and analysis. This can be a fun way to ensure you continue to develop your relevant skills. Consider playing a word puzzle game or some form of a role-playing game to help you build strategy skills and perform analysis. Try to play these games both by yourself and with others to ensure you can apply your skills in a variety of situations.

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