Developing your critical thinking skills can help you in both your personal and professional life. In your personal life, it can help you become more informed and make better choices about your finances, and relationships. Critical thinking can make you solve problems and communicate more effectively with others at work.
You are called upon to make daily decisions as a manager, leader, employee, or team member. Some of these are small and inconsequential, while others can mean the difference between success and failure. That is why learning how to think critically at work is essential.
What is critical thinking?
Critical thinking objectively examines assertions and evidence to determine if they are logically valid and reflect reality. It involves suspending judgment in favor of reasoned inquiry, considering all possibilities, and resisting appeals to authority, emotion, or personal bias.
In other words, it is a way of thinking that does not take anything at face value and instead looks at all the evidence before concluding.
Why critical thinking is important?
Critical thinking is essential because it allows us to question information and arrive at reasoned conclusions. Every day we are bombarded with information from everywhere, much of which is biased, inaccurate, or outright false.
That is why it is more important than ever to think critically about the information we are presented with daily.
With critical thinking skills, you can sift through the noise and get to the heart of what is happening. In other words, critical thinking allows us to think for ourselves.
Here are 15 examples of critical thinking in the workplace:
1. Being Skeptical
Good examples of critical thinking skills include not accepting information at face value, looking at evidence objectively, and checking sources for reliability.
One of the key aspects of critical thinking is skepticism — it allows us to question information and distinguish between fact and fiction or the insistence on evidence.
Too often, we accept things at face value without verifying the facts. Skepticism helps us be more skeptical of what is true or exaggerated by critically checking to determine whether what others want us to believe is accurate, reliable, and credible.
Skepticism does not mean cynicism; instead, it is a healthy dose of doubt applied to people’s claims or statements.
When evaluating claims, ask yourself: Who is making this claim? What is their motive for doing so? Does this person have anything to gain from me believing this? Is there any disconfirming evidence?
A healthy skepticism will help guard against bias and emotional reactions and ensure you base your decisions on solid evidence.
2. Analyzing information gathered from multiple sources
Let us say you are a manager tasked with determining whether to lay off a certain number of employees to stay afloat.
You have gathered information from various sources, including employee performance reviews, financial reports, and industry trends. But before making your final decision, you want to think critically.
First, you need to ask yourself some questions. What is the real problem here that we want to solve? Layoffs or staying afloat? Is there any other way to solve this problem? And are layoffs the only solution?
Once you have answered these questions, you can start analyzing the data. Do the numbers support the decision to lay people off? Are there other factors at play that we need to consider?
You will need to critically look at many things, including revenue, profit margins, and expenses, and then weigh all of this information against each other to make an informed decision.
Read also: 15 Examples of Taking Ownership
3. Challenging your assumptions
One of the vital aspects of critical thinking is willing to challenge assumptions – we all make them almost daily, both at work and in our personal lives.
And while some assumptions are harmless, others can have a significant impact on the decisions we make.
When you are engaged in critical thinking, it is vital to identify your assumptions and question why you are making them.
Once you have identified your assumptions, ask yourself if they are true or if there might be another explanation for what you are observing.
4. Reflecting on your performance
Examples of critical thinking skills include reflecting on your performance and looking for ways to improve in the future. When you are critiquing your work, be specific. What were your goals? How well did you achieve them? What challenges or obstacles did you face — and how did you overcome them?
Looking at things this way can help you develop an action plan to implement. Maybe some techniques worked particularly well for you — consider maintaining them in your strategy.
Or perhaps there are some things you could do better — make a note of those and vow to work on them.
Either way, taking the time to assess your performance critically can make things improve in future situations.
5. Willingness to change your mind after careful consideration
Another example of critical thinking is the willingness to change your mind after forming an initial opinion – based on new information you learn or changes in your beliefs or convictions.
One of the hallmarks of a critical thinker is being flexible, and willing to change your mind when warranted.
So if you find new information or viewpoints that challenge your existing beliefs, consider them before making a judgment.
Ask yourself whether the new information is credible and supported by evidence. And if there is still doubt, at least you can say that you considered them carefully and thoughtfully — that is valuable.
When we think critically, it allows us to avoid getting stuck in our ways and being blinded by our own biases. Opinions are not static things — they can and should change as we learn more about the world around us.
The only way to grow and learn is by being open to new information, even if it means admitting that we were wrong.
6. Asking probing questions to get to the heart of an issue
You must ask probing questions to get to the heart of an issue or problem. This means asking questions that go beyond the surface and get to the root of the matter.
It would help if you knew what you wanted to learn from it. So, when asking probing questions related to project risks, you want to focus on understanding the potential consequences of any identified risks and assessing how likely each risk will occur.
For example, if you are concerned that the company may need more resources to complete the project. In that case, a probing question will be, What contingencies have been put in place in case of unexpected delays or additional needs?
On the other hand, if you are worried that changes in the market environment may make the project unsuccessful, you can ask, “What analyses have been done to understand how this project will fare in a changing market?
When you are specific about the risk in question, you help the other person focus on answering your question and give you a better understanding of how they are thinking about risk management for this particular project.
That can help you understand how well-prepared the team is for any possible problems that may arise.
7. Listening actively and considering others’ points of view
Trying to listen while someone is talking to you is a vital part of critical thinking. You can consider it without agreeing with someone’s point of view. You can even disagree with the person but still consider their opinions.
The key is to be respectful and understand that not everyone has the same perspective as you. Listen openly and without judgment, and try to see things from the other person’s perspective.
Too often, we are so busy formulating our response that we need to hear what the other person is saying.
Active listening involves consciously focusing on the other person and not letting our minds wander. Once you understand their reasoning, you can formulate a response or counter-argument. But always do so respectfully, and be willing to listen to what they say.
Also read: 13 Examples of Self-Management
8. Remaining open-minded
It is not easy, but possible to keep an open mind. And it is essential because remaining open-minded allows us to see all sides of an issue and make better decisions based on all the information available.
One way to remain open-minded is to be aware of our cognitive biases and how they can distort our thinking.
For example, the sunk cost fallacy makes us continue investing in something (time and money) because we have already invested so much in it, even if it is no longer rational or prudent to do so.
Confirmation bias causes us to seek information that supports our pre-determined opinions while ignoring or discounting information that challenges them.
9. Looking at problems from different angles
Most people are linear thinkers, meaning they think in a straight line or one step after another. This type of thinking can be helpful when trying to solve simple problems, but it often fails when faced with more complex challenges.
Many issues in the workplace are too complex to be solved using this method because they usually do not have a single solution — you have to consider multiple potential solutions and then choose the most effective one.
Non-linear thinking allows us to explore different possibilities and develop creative solutions that may not have been possible using a more rigid linear way of thinking.
In other words, non-linear thinking is a critical way of analyzing issues and breaking out of the “box” mentality that often limits our thinking and prevents us from considering all possible solutions.
10 Focusing on long-term goals rather than short-term gains
Too many people focus on short-term goals that do not matter, or they give in to convenience instead of striving for something more.
They tend to live in the moment and take actions that offer short-term satisfaction without thinking about the future implications of their choices.
This can lead to negative consequences such as making poor decisions with harmful long-term effects or becoming bogged down in practices that do not move them closer to their goals.
Changing your mindset to focus on long-term goals can be difficult, but it is possible. One way to shift your focus to long-term goals is to think critically about why you want what you want.
When you think deeply about why you want something, you may find that your original reasons need to be stronger than you thought.
So, once you have a clear idea of what is important to you, it will be easier to set realistic goals and stay on track with them over the long term.
11. Considering the implications of a decision on all stakeholders
You should always consider the implications of a decision on all stakeholders involved, not just those who will directly benefit.
For example, suppose you make a decision that will increase profits for your company but will also result in the layoffs of a significant number of employees. In that case, you need to make a wise decision.
Similarly, if you make a wise decision that will benefit your company in the short term but damage it in the long term, you need to make a wise decision.
Every decision you make should be weighed against the potential consequences for all stakeholders involved — not just those who will immediately benefit or be harmed.
By thinking critically about decisions in this way, you can make wiser choices that benefit everyone involved.
12. Recognising that your past experiences can and will cloud your thinking
Preconceived knowledge is a powerful tool for thinking. However, it can also lead you astray if you are not careful.
In particular, the assumption that because something has always been a certain way, it will always be that way can lead you to cloud your thinking and overlook potential changes or new information.
Remember that just because something has always been a certain way does not mean it will always be that way. For example, suppose you need to be more careful.
In that case, you might assume that your company’s competitive edge will always be there and that you do not need to keep innovating or developing new products.
Or you might think your customers will always want what you are selling and will never switch to a competitor. These are just a few examples.
The truth is that things change constantly, and it is essential to keep an open mind to adapt to those changes.
Read more: 16 Examples of Taking Responsibility at Work
13. Refraining from judging something until you have all of the information
We all know someone who is always quick to judge others — always has something negative to say about every situation or person they meet.
The problem with this way of thinking is that we often do not have all the information before making a judgment. If you judge a person based on their appearance, you might not know they are kind-hearted and caring.
It is usually a good idea to judge only once we have all the information. This is because it is possible that we could be wrong if we do not have all of the facts.
And even if we are right, it is not very helpful to be critical and judgmental towards others. So, always try to withhold judgment until you have all the information.
14. Always ask yourself why you think what you think
We all have biases, but it is essential to be aware of them so that we can question our thinking and make sure that our views are based on logic and evidence.
For example, let us say that you think your boss is a jerk. Is there a logical reason you feel like this, or are you biased? Maybe your boss always gives you challenging assignments and never praises your work.
In this case, it would be reasonable to say that your boss is a jerk. However, it is probably not a logical conclusion if you think like this because you do not like how he talks to you.
Be aware of your biases so that you can question your thoughts and assumptions before jumping to conclusions. Self-questioning is a crucial component of critical thinking, and it is something that we should all practice regularly.
15. Practicing Reflective Thinking
Finally, critical thinkers know the importance of taking time for reflection. Reflective thinking is taking time periodically throughout the day (or week) to pause and reflect on your thoughts and actions. This allows you to step back and see the bigger picture more clearly.
It also allows you to evaluate your assumptions and identify any emotions or biases that might cloud your judgment. Practicing reflective thinking regularly can help improve your ability to think critically at work and in your personal life.
Critical thinking is an essential skill that allows us to examine our assumptions and beliefs objectively and rationally. It helps us become aware of our own biases and preconceptions.
And it will enable us to find the best possible solution to a problem by considering all the evidence and possibilities.
By practicing objectivity and honing our active listening and reading comprehension skills, we can all become better critical thinkers—and make better decisions.