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The importance of critical thinking and how to encourage it

Critical thinking is a skill that employers look for within their teams and in candidates they seek to recruit. An individual who has this skill is able to analyse the information they receive, draw conclusions from the information and make better decisions. Leaders should be critical thinkers, able to challenge the status quo and make things better. In this article, we will clearly define what critical thinking is and demonstrate how it benefits your business. We will also provide examples of critical thinking and ways to encourage it within your teams.

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Definition of critical thinking

In simple words, critical thinking is about seeing the bigger picture. Critical thinking is the act of analysing a situation, forming a judgement and making a decision. It does not ignore the details, but rather uses these when analysing a situation or a challenge, while taking a step back to be able to adopt a different perspective and make an informed decision. The nature of critical thinking will depend on the industry and the role the employee is in.

Organisations seek critical thinkers because they evaluate a situation objectively and find possible solutions to a challenge, allowing the business to move forward without roadblocks. The concept comes from Ancient Greece and was an early method of questioning to achieve knowledge.

Critical thinking is highly related to innovation and creativity in the workplace as it finds new ways and solutions to existing problems. In a way, it is the ability to detach oneself from the situation emotionally in order to not influence the outcome, instead providing an objective opinion based on clear rationale and reasonable thinking. Being a critical thinker is being a problem solver.

Examples of critical thinking

To put critical thinking into perspective, we have selected some examples of it for you below. These might be subjective but will shed some light on the value of critical thinking.

Being open to change

Most people are reluctant to change. It challenges us in our ways and requires effort to learn new processes and ways of working. However, change is necessary for businesses to evolve with the times and to continue to be competitive. Critical thinkers are open to change and see it as an opportunity. Instead of pushing back new ideas, they gather the information, analyse it and if they deem it to be beneficial, they embrace them.

Effective decision making

In the business environment, some situations require a prompt response. Critical thinkers are highly effective at making those fast decisions. They analyse the situation rapidly and make a call on an action plan. The information they collect, in an unbiased way, is gathered quickly in their mind and forms the basis of the decision and the plan that goes with it. In this decision process, they are not tangled by emotions.

Pushing back on emotional reactions

Emotions are part of us. They influence our behaviours and decisions, sometimes in a negative or biased way. They may make facts fade away in the background and lead to influenced or irrational actions. Many employees are faced with emotional situations at work. These may get in the way of their work and lead to decisions that might not serve the business. Critical thinkers are able to take the emotion out of their decision making.

Benefits of critical thinking for your business

Critical thinking is quite a subjective concept, and it is difficult to pinpoint or clearly identify within individuals. No matter the difficulty, it is essential that businesses continue their effort in training and recruiting critical thinkers. In the long term, it will help teams gain in efficiency, diagnose problems and solve them in an effective manner. It may influence the resolution of conflicts at work and will ensure decisions made are unbiased and based on facts rather than emotions. We explore below some of the benefits of critical thinking for your business.

Improved decision making

Making decisions can be daunting. In a business environment, it may affect the performance of the organisation or impact its employees’ lives. Critical thinkers have the ability to collect accurate and factual information and analyse it without emotion. With this research in hand, they are able to make informed decisions in a prompt manner.

Increased factual information

It is natural to react to the information we are given. Unfortunately, the information we receive is not always accurate. In today’s world, we are overloaded with information; however, its content is not always accurate or relevant. Critical thinkers excel at extracting accurate, relevant and granular information. As they are well informed with factual content, they are able to feed the workplace with appropriate information. Critical thinkers are thought leaders. 

Encourages reflection and challenges the status quo

We tend to do things in a certain way by force of habit. Critical thinkers have an inherent ability to challenge the status quo. They think things through and manage to put another perspective to situations, thus challenging the status quo. Based on factual information, they manage to push their emotions away, challenge their reflection and ways of thinking and change their opinion on things. Through this behaviour, they often suggest new ways of working or innovations that will greatly benefit the business they work for.

Increased employee satisfaction

As critical thinkers are able to detach themselves from their emotions and take a step back, they are generally happier employees. Taking a step back on situations and seeing the bigger picture is essential in all aspects of our lives. At work, it promotes personal growth and makes for happier employees. In addition, as critical thinkers are able to solve problems and dilute conflict, they will have a positive impact on the work environment of other employees.

Ways to encourage critical thinking

Critical thinking can be cultivated and there are ways that businesses can encourage it. Providing training will bring many benefits to the organisation. In the section below, we provide ways for companies to encourage critical thinking within their teams.

Recruit critical thinkers

If a skill is missing within your business, a quick way to tackle the gap is to recruit and fill that skills gap with new resources. Individuals who join the company with that strength will naturally inspire others and, if encouraged, will generate a domino effect. By hiring critical thinkers or promoting critical thinkers, you create expectations within the organisation of the skills required to move up the ladder. This pipeline serves as a path for those who seek leadership positions. To find out more about how to choose the right candidate, check our dedicated article on this topic here.

Promote a culture of constant learning

Company culture plays a big role in encouraging critical thinking. To promote it, businesses can implement “lessons learned” sessions, “post-mortem” analysis, or many other ways in which individuals are encouraged to challenge their ways of thinking and the organisation’s way of doing things. By encouraging these behaviours, you will create opportunities for employees to speak up and share their opinion. They will be more likely to ask difficult questions that might influence decision making. Check our work culture section here for more details.

Encourage reflection

Reacting to things rather than responding to them are two very different things. Senior leadership teams should have the ability to take a step back from situations and avoid jumping to conclusions. Teams often inspire themselves from their leaders and therefore ensuring that management teams display critical thinking skills and ability will naturally lead to overall development in that area.

Encourage brainstorming sessions

Brainstorming sessions are the essence of critical thinking. By nature, they challenge the status quo. Teams who conduct brainstorming sessions on a regular basis encourage critical thinking. Individuals challenge each other, question current state of play and ways of doing things and look for solutions. They talk things out and analyse problems together. They generate new ideas and collaborate for solutions.

Implement learning and development programmes

Learning and development programmes can be the base for promoting critical thinking within an organisation. The training provided aims at building the desired business strengths and mindset. Implementing a well-rounded learning and development programme will also increase awareness of the bigger picture. Check our content on learning and development here.

Critical thinking is a soft skill that is highly sought by employers. Cultivating it is essential to drive innovation and creativity. When managed well, critical thinkers are a true asset to your business. They will shift a situation around, from a problem to an opportunity.

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