It is referred to in social, professional, and personal life, but when most people are asked to define critical thinking, they often have a hard time doing so. Employers often site critical thinking as one for the most important tools their employees can possess, yet, critical thinking skills are not often taught and therefore not often demonstrated in the workplace.
Robert Ellis, author of “Critical Thinking an Introduction,” describes critical thinking as reasonable, reflective thinking that is focused on deciding what to believe and do. The individual skills involved include gathering information, interpretation, analysis, evaluation, inference, explanation, and self-regulation. What does all of that translate to in practice? It means gathering and assessing relevant information, interpreting it effectively, and often times making a decision based on findings. Critical thinking skills can shorten the time to making decisions, reduce chances of making mistakes, and simplify problems that initially appeared complex.
One of the skills required for critical thinking is asking effective questions. Knowing which questions to ask can lead to uncovering crucial insights. Often times, employees either fail to ask questions to gain more information or they ask closed ended questions that limit the amount of critical information shared. When faced with an issue that requires a decision to be made, practice asking open-ended questions to learn more about the entire situation. For example, “Why did this happen?”, “What options do we have?”, “What should we consider before making a decision?” While there are many skills required to think critically, asking effective questions is a good starting place.
There are a variety of skills and models that can guide individuals and teams to incorporate critical thinking into the workplace. With a little intentionality and a bit of practice, anyone can develop their critical thinking skills.