Do you ever wonder why critical thinking skills seem to be lacking in a lot of people? As if “common sense” or having strong judgment isn’t so common? Are schools to blame for not teaching these soft skills? Or are employers too harsh in their criticism of “incompetent” workers?

When you look at the survey data for answers, you can see that worker and employer opinions about critical thinking skills – or lack of – are clashing. According to Payscale and Future Workplace, “nearly 90 percent of all recent college graduates considered themselves well prepared for their jobs.”

But that’s not what employers think. “More than half of all companies (60 percent) said new grads lacked critical thinking skills.” Click To Tweet

How will this difference of opinion impact the education system and how people are hired in the future? 

One way to think of it is this: a CEO with weak critical thinking skills could potentially make some bad decisions, leaving a company drowning in debt. And if you worked at this company, wouldn’t you want to prevent this scenario?

The solution is not an easy one. Let’s start with what critical thinking skills are, before getting to the bottom of why people lack those skills and why we need to master these skills to get hired.

What Is Critical Thinking?

One definition of critical thinking is: 

It refers to the ability to analyze information objectively and make a reasoned judgment. Critical thinking involves the evaluation of sources such as data, facts, observable phenomenon, and research findings. Good critical thinkers can draw reasonable conclusions from a set of information and discriminate between useful and less useful details to solve a problem or make a decision. 

So what they’re saying is, critical thinking helps you to make judgements. You can look at different pieces of information and make some conclusions from them. 

When I make a decision about keeping or killing a business deal, I’m reviewing all the facts and numbers before deciding what’s best for my team. 

Academic Definition Vs. Workplace Definition

Do schools have a different definition about critical thinking?

A college website gave this definition:

Critical thinking is the analysis of an issue or situation and the facts, data or evidence related to it. Ideally, critical thinking is to be done objectively—meaning without influence from personal feelings, opinions or biases—and it focuses solely on factual information.

This definition is very similar to other definitions of critical thinking. But how do employers define it? Is their idea of this soft skill very different from the academic definition?

Here is one workplace definition:

Employers want job candidates who can evaluate a situation using logical thought and come up with the best solution. Someone with critical thinking skills can be trusted to make decisions on his or her own and does not need constant handholding.

It’s no surprise that critical thinking abilities are some of the most sought-after skills in almost every industry and workplace. You can demonstrate critical thinking by using keywords related to this skill in your resume and cover letter, and during your interview.

Here’s the big surprise. They both agree that logic and analysis are important in critical thinking. It’s the reason for learning this skill that seems to be different.

Employers believe that critical thinking gives an employee independence. Independence makes an employee trusted and sought-after. 

Critical thinking skills make an employee more valuable.

Characteristics Of Critical Thinking

If strong critical thinking skills make you a trusted and sought-after employee, how can you work on developing strong thinking skills? Click To Tweet

One way is to work on mastering some characteristics of critical thinking by becoming a sharp-eyed, ultra keen detective like Sherlock Holmes. 

How well do you perform the following characteristics?

1. Observing What’s Around You

How closely do you observe what happens around you? Do you notice details about the person you passed on the street? What did the air smell like this morning? What color was your coworker’s shirt?

Careful observation and collection of data helps you get better insights on your surroundings. It’s the first step to logical thinking – gathering all the facts and details. 

2. Objectivity When Making An Analysis

Analytical thinking = Critical thinking 

Like a computer analyzing data, you want to see everything as black and white when you’re being objective. You lock away your emotions and the emotions of the people around you.

You’re a scientist seeing the world as a bunch of facts and numbers. 

You want to say open minded – while holding out an empty cup – to take in everything you can without bias.

But sometimes, your biases and perspectives might seep through and tip your judgement in one direction. We can’t completely ignore our life experiences.

But we want to be as objective and scientific as possible to be great critical thinkers. 

3. Self-Reflection

How are you feeling right now, at this moment? Are you tired or alert? Calm, angry, sad, or happy?

Being able to think critically means being able to evaluate your own thoughts and feelings to give you insights. If you’re tired, you might not be as observant. It’s easy to miss out on some facts. If you’re angry about something that happened earlier in the day, you might be less patient and jump to conclusions. 

4. Identifying Biases

When you’re looking at information, ask yourself who wrote the information and who it benefits. 

For example, was the ad produced by a political party? Why did the corporation sponsor the local event after investing in the area’s infrastructure?

 5. Determining Relevance of Facts

Like a crime scene where not every fingerprint is relevant to the crime, you must be able to sort out what’s relevant and irrelevant to the issue you’re analyzing.

Sometimes information may seem interesting and valuable, but it has nothing to do with the issue. 

6. Inference and Assumptions

What you see might not be what you believe. It’s important to separate inference from assumption. The conclusions you come to might not be the truth. 

For example, the driver of the flashy Lamborghini zipping by may not be the owner. He could be test driving the car. 

7. Effective Communicators & Active Listeners

Why does your customer believe that your product doesn’t have a guarantee? Why does your spouse think that you jumped to the wrong conclusion? 

You must be able to get your point across clearly to others when you communicate and ask questions. When the other person responds, you want to be an active listener and really hear and understand what the other person is saying. 

Otherwise, you could miss out on some crucial details.

Why Is Critical Thinking Important?

Critical thinking gives you the edge in the marketplace when you have a job, or if you’re looking for work. If you can think critically, you can think independently. 

For example, if you’re autonomous, would your supervisor need to micromanage your every action? Probably not. They can spend time on other priorities. They can also entrust you with more responsibilities, such as conducting an analysis of market trends and client needs.

If you’re more independent, you could be put in charge of your own team. If you’re self employed or managing your own business, you’ll likely be more successful.

The level of critical thinking you’ll need to do at work will depend on the job and the industry. Take a look at these examples and decide if the level of thinking required is easy, more difficult, or very difficult.

  • A triage nurse analyzes the cases at hand and decides the order by which the patients should be treated.
  • A plumber evaluates the materials that best would suit a particular job.
  • An attorney reviews evidence and devises a strategy to win a case or to decide whether to settle out of court.
  • A manager analyzes customer feedback forms and uses this information to develop a customer service training session for employees.
Some schools are realizing the role that critical thinking has at the workplace and how students need to learn these soft skills to succeed at work. Click To Tweet

For example, at Two Rivers Public Charter School “students engage in a lot of project-based learning and are taught explicitly how ‘to identify the key questions in a problem, develop possible paths to a solution, and follow through with a solution.’”

At St. Mary’s College, “critical thinking is part of the institution’s core curriculum,” and there is a “seminar that gives students a chance to practice the skill of critical thinking within a specific subject.”

Schools aren’t completely in agreement about how to teach critical thinking, whether it should be its own subject or part of a curriculum, but they are taking steps to integrate it more into what they teach.

Schools are adding critical thinking to the curriculum.

Ways To Develop Your Critical Thinking Skills And Expand Your Depth Of Thinking

So far, you’ve read about how stellar critical thinking skills can make you a star — or close to it — on your team at work. 

But say you struggle with high level critical thinking skills… and you’re done with school. What can you do to improve your depth of thinking?

One way is to try out these steps and ask these questions to build stronger thinking skills, and impress your boss, coworkers, clients, or family members.

1. Identify the problem.

What is the situation or problem? What factors are influencing the situation?

Before you can start to analyze what’s going on, you need a clear picture of the issue, the people involved, and the potential solutions. 

Ask yourself the following questions:

  • Who is involved and what are they doing?
  • What seems to be the reason for what’s happening?
  • What are the possible end results, and how could they change?

2. Research the problem.

What facts do you already know? What have people told you or what have you read about the problem? 

When you have the arguments (the evidence and facts) in front of you, you want to verify the source of the information. Was any of the information false or a lie? If you can’t find a clear answer to your own questions, then maybe the source is not trustworthy.

Ask yourself the following questions:

  • What arguments or claims have already been made?
  • Who or what are the sources of the claims?

3. Identifying biases.

This step is one of the most challenging to do, like rating your own intelligence or your own looks. You can give your opinion, but is it somewhat or very biased?

If you’re a strong critical thinker, then you’ll want to do your best to evaluate both sides of an argument objectively. You want to be aware of your own personal opinions and how they can bias your judgement.

Ask yourself these questions:

  • Do you hold an opinion about this argument already?
  • What are the two viewpoints of this issue?
  • Is the information you received trustworthy?
  • Are you missing any important information that could affect your conclusions?
  • Who benefits if the issue is resolved a certain way?

4. Making Inferences

Can you assess the information you are given and draw conclusions from it? And have you weighed the possibility that your inferences might not be correct?

Ask yourself the following questions:

  • Have you gathered all the information that you can about the problem?
  • What do you think is going on?
  • What could you be wrong about?

5. Determining relevance to the issue.

If you’ve watched a Marvel superhero movie, then you’ve seen the aftermath of a fight. Now let’s say you’ve been sent to figure out what happened, based on all the damage.

Not everything you see on the ground will be the result of the fight. Not all of the damage that you see is equally important for your consideration. Maybe the damage to a wall was the result of one object ricocheting off from something else, and not because a superhero hit it.

While you’re deciding what details were relevant, ask yourself these questions:

  • What are your observations?
  • Which observation is relevant? Which isn’t?
  • What details are you not sure about?
  • Do you notice any patterns? Trends?
  • What is the purpose of the task? (To figure out why each item was damaged, or what happened at the scene)

Critical Thinking Exercises

How can you improve your critical thinking skills for work and for life? Always look for ways to solve problems before or when they happen. 

Remember that “How you do anything is how you do everything.” It’s easy to fall into patterns. To look for shortcuts if we think no one is looking.

But how can we challenge ourselves to do things more effectively? To find that small improvement that can make a big difference?

Let’s exercise those critical thinking muscles and try out these critical thinking exercises. How would you analyze and solve problems for these real life workplace situations?

High Ticket Closer ™

A High Ticket Closer ™ closes a $3500 USD business coaching program over the phone. On the call, the closer will find out if the prospect is a fit for the program, answer questions, and ideally close the prospect on investing in the program.

EASY CRITICAL THINKING EXERCISE

An hour before the phone call, the prospect emails the closer to say she needs to reschedule. What should the closer reply to the prospect?

HARD CRITICAL THINKING EXERCISE

A prospect wants to invest in the business coaching program so he can start his own business. He cannot afford to pay $3500 in one payment because of his other monthly debts. He has one credit card with $1000 in credit available. What options does the closer give the prospect? Give as many as possible.

Copywriter

A copywriter writes the copy for websites, emails, ads, and landing pages. This copywriter works gigs (project-based jobs) for several clients. 

EASY CRITICAL THINKING EXERCISE

A client asks the copywriter to create a landing page for his website by Friday. Another client asks the copywriter to write several emails, also for Friday. The copywriter doesn’t have the capacity to do both assignments by the same day. What can the copywriter say to the clients?

DIFFICULT  CRITICAL THINKING EXERCISE

The copywriter has spent a lot of time researching a marketing campaign for a client. One member of the client team thinks the campaign is not original enough. Another member of the client team believes the campaign will not appeal to their target market. How can the copywriter convince the client that this campaign will appeal to the target market?

Motivational Speaker

A motivational speaker is giving a talk to over 1500 people. They have bought tickets to the event that features three well-known speakers.

EASY CRITICAL THINKING EXERCISE

While the motivational speaker is in the middle of explaining a complex flowchart displayed on the screen, the projector stops working and the screen goes blank. What should the speaker do to keep the presentation going?

DIFFICULT CRITICAL THINKING EXERCISE

The motivational speaker took a risk in her presentation and spent extra time on a topic because the audience was very excited about it. After finishing the topic, the speaker realizes she has only 5 minutes remaining for the last topic and the Q and A. The final topic, which usually takes about 8 minutes, is an audience favorite, and has a set of PowerPoint slides. What should the speaker do for the final 5 minutes of her presentation?

Summary

Do people really lack critical thinking skills? College graduates believe they have these soft skills, but employers feel that these applicants don’t have critical thinking skills.

It’s possible to learn critical thinking skills, such as learning how to identify biases and make inferences. Learning these skills increases the value of a worker to the marketplace.

Some schools are starting to change their curriculum because both schools and employers are recognizing how important critical thinking is for employed and self employed workers.

To improve your critical thinking skills, learn a method for solving tasks in a critical way and then, like Sherlock Holmes, look for solutions.

 

People with high-level critical thinking skills are seen as more valuable to employers and clients. To find out more about another skill that increases your value in any industry, watch this video to learn more.