By Elizabeth Rittiman - January 16th, 2015
This is the first in a series on how to make yourself indispensable at work in the new year by strengthening your soft skills. Soft skills are attributes that allow you to interact effectively and harmoniously with other people and add value to your role and responsibilities. You don’t often see them listed on a job description, but they’re the skills that separate leaders and help an organization grow.
What is Critical Thinking and Why is it Important?
Critical thinking is the process of analyzing and evaluating a situation in order to form a judgment and ultimately make a decision on what should be done about it. It’s a way to use whatever information is available and make a sound argument in determining what it means and how it affects your next course of action.1
In the business world and in our personal lives, this type of thought process happens all the time. If your kids ask why they can’t have cookies before dinner, you are able to explain the effect it will have on their appetite and why the result is undesirable. When your boss asks why the December numbers were down, you can explain that your clients all took time off for the holidays.
From time to time, most organizations find themselves in a situation where it’s necessary to pull the whole team together to try to solve a more complex problem. How awesome would it be if that problem solver was you? Your boss would certainly take notice. What if you were so good at coming up with solutions that those higher up just started coming to you for advice? It probably wouldn’t be long before the next promotion available came to you. You might not even have to ask for it.
Careers Where Critical Thinking is Highly Valued
There is probably not a single job where critical thinking isn’t valued, but there are some jobs where critical thinking is crucial to success. If you are a manager or in a leadership position in an organization, honing your critical thinking strategies will be one of your biggest assets. It can help ensure you are utilizing the time of your direct reports most effectively and help you better communicate with other departments to more efficiently accomplish your organization’s objectives.
In industries like marketing and sales that rely heavily on consumer trends, forecasting the future, and timely decision making, critical thinking can help you predict responses and avoid costly errors. Project managers also utilize critical thinking regularly as small decisions can have long term affects on a project’s overall scope, schedule, or budget. No matter your role, the bigger the decision that needs to be made, the more vital critical thinking is.
Tips for Developing Your Critical Thinking Skills
- Ask Questions – The more information you have, the more ways you can look at a problem and the more solutions you are likely to come up with. Once you are in the habit of asking questions, you will also get better at asking the right questions and that too is a key benefit for improving your critical thinking ability.
- Play Devil’s Advocate – It’s good to look at all sides of an issue and the possible solutions. When an idea is proposed try to think about what could go wrong with it or another perspective of how the solution might be received. It’s not that you’re trying to shoot down others’ ideas; you’re just trying to see all sides of the puzzle before making a commitment.
- Challenge Yourself – Take on a project you might normally avoid because it’s in an area you’re less knowledgeable about. This will force you to get more comfortable taking on challenging tasks and thinking critically in more areas.
- Practice – You can practice critical thinking just about anywhere and anytime. For instance, when you wake up in the morning do you really think about what you’re going to wear or do you just throw on an outfit? Also, when you’re presented with information at work or read something in the news, try not to take it at face value. Compare it to similar information from the past to find trends or learn to do a little research before you trust your first assumption.
The assignments you have while earning your degree are a great way to practice too. They present you with a problem and give you research areas to help you come up with solutions. When you start applying that process to your work, critical thinking starts to come more naturally. Show your boss you are the go-to person for solving problems and you’ll be able to start making more important decisions in the future.
1Tittle, P. (2011). Critical Thinking: An Appeal to Reason. New York: Routledge.
Elizabeth Rittiman spent the first seven years of her career working in television news. When she moved to Denver with her husband in 2011 she used the opportunity to switch gears in her career to find a role where she could be more of an advocate for the things she was passionate about, education being one of them. When she’s not working, she enjoys skiing and snowshoeing in the Rocky Mountains.