Critical thinking remains the top of the list of needs for employers today. An American Management Association survey that asked 768 managers and executives found 72% of respondents agreeing that critical thinking skills are critical to the success of their organization, but half (49%) responded that their employees’ critical thinking skills were average at best. Why is critical thinking important and how can you improve your critical thinking skills?
Employers are making it clear that job seekers and new college graduates entering the workplace should be ready to demonstrate their critical thinking skills. The job aggregator Inndeed.com reported that the mention of critical thinking in job postings has doubled since 2009. And most college students (69%) surveyed in a Harris Interactive Poll reported being prepared with good problem solving skills, but less than half of employers agreed with them. In a different study by the Association of American Colleges, nine out of ten employers (93%) reported that a student’s ability to think critically, communicate clearly and solve problems is more important than a student’s choice of undergraduate major.
So what is critical thinking? There are many definitions. The Center for Critical Thinking defines it as
The intellectually disciplined process of activity and skillfully conceptualizing, applying, analyzing, synthesizing and/or evaluating information gathered from, or generated by, observation, experience, reflection, reasoning, or communication as a guide to belief and action.
So critical thinking is more about thinking about your thinking than anything else. In decision-making, it is checking the validity of assumptions, clarifying, interpreting, analyzing, and evaluating information and facts. It is not assuming the quick or first answer or falling back on the way something always has been done.
When people use critical thinking in the workplace, especially in collaboration, organizational creativity, innovation and efficiency all go up. Critical thinking done well produces multiple and/or alternate solutions to problems. Business outcomes improve.
When managers engage and support employees in critical thinking discussions, employee value can go up and their level of engagement can go up even further. Critical thinking also encourages and supports independent thinking, which in the long run can reduce the amount of direct supervision needed.
How to improve critical thinking skills:
First thing is to get your managers onboard. Managers should be supporting and encouraging employee critical thinking skills by:
- Leading by example and modeling critical thinking skills so team members know what they look and sound like.
- Not demanding compliance, but rather discussing options.
- Supporting and encouraging team members to challenge your ideas and methods; sending the message that your way isn’t always the best way.
- Working directly with team members by deconstructing both good and bad decisions.
- Asking clarifying questions to understand how decisions were arrived at.
Employees can improve their critical thinking skills by:
- Incorporating more data, even conflicting data, into the decision making process, not relying solely on your “gut.”
- Challenging assumptions. Doing it a certain way because it is the way it has always been done is not necessarily the best way. Are your assumptions based on facts or conclusions?
- Vetting your conclusions with others.
- Taking time to think about other solutions, not just jumping in with the first solution that comes to mind.
- Finding experts in your organization and getting to know them. They may have information to help your decision process.
- Reading more. The more information you have the more informed decisions will result.
Sources: wsj.com; amanet.org; aacu.org; talentculture.com; pointer.org; work911.com;