5 Top Critical Thinking Skills (And How To Improve Them)

5 Straightforward Ways To Go From Employed To Self-Employed

By Jennifer Herrity

Critical thinking skills allow you to understand and address situations based on all available facts and information. Typically, using critical thinking at work involves processing and organizing facts, data and other information to define a problem and develop effective solutions.

It’s a good idea to reflect on the critical thinking skills you already possess and which ones you may need to develop and highlight on your resume and during interviews. In addition, you might consider setting goals and adopting practices to help you build the critical thinking skills necessary to succeed in your job.

In this article, we explain what critical thinking is, why it’s important and how you can improve your skills in this area.

WORKSHOP: APS 5-6 Critical Thinking & Problem Solving

What is critical thinking?

Critical thinking is the act of analyzing 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 analyzing possible solutions. For example, if you’re working in human resources and need to resolve a conflict between two employees, you will use critical thinking to understand the nature of the conflict and what action should be taken to resolve the situation.

Top 5 critical thinking skills

Here are five common and impactful critical thinking skills you might consider highlighting on your resume or in an interview:

1. Observation

Observational skills are the starting point for critical thinking. People who are observant can quickly sense and identify a new problem. Those skilled in observation are also capable of understanding why something might be a problem. They may even be able to predict when a problem might occur before it happens based on their experiences.

Improve your observation skills by slowing down your pace of processing information and training yourself to pay closer attention to your surroundings. You might practice 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 behavior, transactions or data that might be helpful for your team to address.

2. Analysis

Once a problem has been identified, analytical skills become essential. The ability to analyze 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. For example, you might read a book about a concept you’re unfamiliar with or take an online math class to push yourself to think in new ways and consider new ideas. Doing so can help you build the skills to interpret new information and make rational decisions based on sound analysis.

3. Inference

Inference is a skill that involves drawing conclusions about the information you collect and may require you to possess technical or industry-specific knowledge or experience. When you make an inference, that means you are developing answers based on limited information. For example, a car mechanic may need to infer what is causing a car’s engine to stall at seemingly random times based on the information available to them.

Improve your inference skills by placing focus on making educated guesses rather than quickly drawing conclusions. This requires slowing down to carefully look for and consider as many clues as possible—such as images, data or reports—that might help you evaluate a situation.

4. Communication

Communication skills are important when it comes time to explain and discuss issues and their possible solutions with colleagues and other stakeholders.
Improve your communication skills within the context of critical thinking by engaging in difficult discussions, for example, in situations when you and another participant may disagree about the topic. 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.

5. Problem-solving

After you’ve identified and analyzed a problem and chosen a solution, the final step is to execute your solution. Problem-solving often requires critical thinking to implement the best solution and understand whether or not the solution is working as it relates to the goal.

Improve your problem-solving skills by setting goals to acquire more industry knowledge within your field. Problem-solving at work typically becomes easier if you have a strong understanding of industry-specific information. It can also be helpful to observe how others around you solve problems at work. Take note of their techniques and ask questions about their process.

*Jennifer Herrity is a seasoned career services professional with 12+ years of experience in career coaching, recruiting and leadership roles with the purpose of helping others to find their best-fit jobs.

*This article first appeared on the indeed.com website.

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