What Are Critical Thinking Skills and How Are They Used?

By Indeed Editorial Team

11 February 2021

Critical thinking skills help you make effective decisions and quickly understand a situation or problem using all available facts. In the workplace, you can use critical thinking skills to define a problem, determine the consequences of choices, identify solutions and lead a team in the right direction or decide to change the way something is done. Critical thinking skills are essential in every industry at every career level, from entry-level associates to top executives. In this article, we discuss what critical thinking is, the skills you need for critical thinking and how you can improve your critical thinking skills.

What is critical thinking?

Critical thinking is the act of analysing facts to understand a problem or topic thoroughly. Critical thinking is important when identifying a problem or issue, coming up with a solution and then implementing it. You can also use it to remain objective on a problem and rely solely on the information you have.

Why is critical thinking important?

Employees with critical thinking skills are important because they help their businesses run smoothly. This can help the business save money and enhance the customer experience. If you have developed good critical thinking skills, you can:

  • Solve complex problems for your team, customers or clients

  • Develop solutions that serve the best interests of all parties where applicable

  • Create new ideas that improve functionality, productivity and efficiency

  • Prevent future problems with new policies and procedures

Many areas of improvement like process inefficiencies, management and finances can be improved by using critical thought. Because of this, employers value and seek out candidates who have demonstrated strong critical thinking skills.

Examples of critical thinking skills

There are several various critical thinking skills to master, including:

  • Observation

  • Analysis

  • Inference

  • Communication

  • Problem-solving

  • Conflict resolution

  • Adaptability

  • Research

Observation

Observational skills are used to identify trends, issues, errors and other aspects of a situation. Observant employees can quickly sense and identify a new problem and may even be able to predict when a problem might occur before it happens based on their previous experience.

If you have good observational skills, you will be able to recognise where problems may arise when others don't and can give an early warning. For example, a doctor may use their observation skills to recognise a series of symptoms related to a specific condition they've treated before, which can help them recommend the proper testing and prescribe medication.

Analysis

Analysis skills are used to decide what information is the most important to consider. The ability to analyse a situation or issue also involves taking important information and conducting research, reviewing data and sources and developing logical conclusions. If you have great analytical skills in the workplace, you can more quickly shift your focus to the most important aspects of an issue or situation, can find reliable and relevant research sources in your industry, can draw conclusions from your research and implement your findings into solutions.

For example, a video game developer can use their analysis skills to identify which part of the code is causing an issue, research forums and other trusted sites for possible solutions and then determine a faster course of action should the error occur again.

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 infer information about a situation, that often means you are developing answers based on limited or complex information.

Those with inference skills are often successful in areas where incomplete data is common. Doctors often have to infer the causes of illness from an incomplete list of symptoms. Similarly, IT professionals may need to be able to discover the cause of a network malfunction through inference by using previous experience and a thorough understanding of the technology.

Communication

Communication skills involve explaining and discussing issues and their possible solutions with colleagues and other relevant parties. If you have good communication skills, you can summarise a complicated or large amount of information for another person and justify your argument based on the facts you've observed and/or researched. This might be by talking to them or in writing. Effective communication skills also ensure that you efficiently update your team on the status of your research or conclusion.

Problem-solving

Problem-solving uses critical thinking to apply trial and error when implementing solutions and understanding whether or not the solution is working as it relates to the goal. For example, an architect might need to design a building that meets many different needs, is built on a certain type of landscape or in a certain setting and cost only a certain amount. Being able to work out how to successfully solve all these problems, whilst working within a client's budget, needs excellent problem-solving skills.

Conflict resolution

Conflict resolution is the ability to understand a problem that others have different stances on, mediate between the parties and come to a civil and agreed-upon resolution. This is important because to work together as a team in an office, everyone must be willing to collaborate and have the same goal in mind.

For example, a manager may have one employee who does not believe spending more money on advertising will be effective and another who does. By using conflict resolution, this manager can try to understand their arguments, collaborate to research the benefits and disadvantages of both options and then develop a compromise and solution based on the information and discussion.

Adaptability

Adaptability means being able to change your mind when given new and updated information. A good critical thinker can adapt and change as events, goals and other elements around them change. Adaptability also means you can keep up-to-date with the latest trends in your industry, professional technology and workplace evolutions.

For example, if you work in customer service, you may need to change how you help a customer over the phone from how you would help a customer in person. Another example is if your company changes policy regarding a specific product. You would use your adaptability and communication skills to inform customers and continue assisting with their issues.

Research

Research skills ensure you have as much information as possible to come to a decision and are using the best resources to collect and analyse information. For example, a paediatric physician would likely use medical journals within paediatrics to better inform themselves of issues their patients may be facing. An entry-level computer engineer may consult more experienced colleagues to get feedback on an issue they've encountered.

How to improve critical thinking skills

While you might already possess many of the skills above, you might also consider areas for improvement. By reflecting on your critical thinking skills, you can improve the areas that need work and refine the areas you currently succeed in, giving you more confidence that the decisions you make are the correct ones.

To improve your critical thinking skills, consider taking some of the following steps:

  1. Further your education. Expand your industry-specific or technical skills to help you more easily identify problems. You could take additional courses in your industry that require critical thinking and analysis.

  2. Volunteer for learning opportunities. Actively volunteer to solve problems for your current employer, for example, if there's an issue with a project or a task requires research and data analysis.

  3. Make networking contacts. Seek advice from professionals in your field or desired industry. You can do this at networking events, in the workplace, at university or on professional networking social media. When you encounter an issue in your work, consult these professionals to understand what they've done in the past to fix and avoid similar issues.

  4. Practise your critical thinking with games. There are video games that can help with many aspects of critical thinking. By playing solo and cooperative games that require critical thinking skills, such as analysis, inference and observation, you can improve your skills for the real world.

How to highlight critical thinking skills

When you are looking for a new role, consider these steps for highlighting your critical thinking skills on your CV and during your interview:

Highlighting critical thinking skills on your CV

You can list the critical thinking skills you possess in a 'Skills' section on your CV, or you can include them in the descriptions of each role.

Example: Identified a series of simple clerical errors that impacted file accuracy by completing in-depth research and data analysis and reporting my findings to my team via presentation.

Highlighting critical thinking skills during your interview

An interviewer may ask you situational interview questions to identify which critical thinking skills you have and understand how you have used them or plan to use them in the workplace. Use the STAR method to describe a specific example from your previous experience, explaining the situation, identifying your task, outlining the actions you took and revealing the results of your efforts.

Example: 'When our company switched accounting software, I took it upon myself to learn the software and adapt to the new procedures. Then, I observed that many of my team members were struggling to use the new software, so I researched online manuals and tutorials. I then made a shared folder with this collection of resources and shared it with colleagues. This improved the team's efficiency by 5%, even with the learning curve.'**