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Why critical thinking skills matter at work

Our brains make thousands of super-fast assessments and quick calculations every day. Most of these are automatic, we don’t even realise it’s happening. But sometimes we need to take time to think more proactively, carefully weighing up decisions and questioning what we’re told.

This is called critical thinking, and it’s a vital soft skill to develop for school and work. In this guide we’ll look at:

  • What is critical thinking?
  • Why is critical thinking important?
  • Examples of critical thinking.
  • How to improve critical thinking.

'Critical thinking is one of top 5 skills that employers value. Discover how to develop yours'

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What is critical thinking?

Here’s the official definition of critical thinking from the Foundation for Critical Thinking:

“Critical thinking is the intellectually disciplined process of actively and skilfully conceptualizing, applying, analysing, synthesising, and/or evaluating information gathered from, or generated by, observation, experience, reflection, reasoning, or communication, as a guide to belief and action.”

Bit of a mouthful, right? If we break that down, the definition of critical thinking is essentially the ability to carefully and deliberately analyse information in order to understand things better.

Critical thinking skills allow you to really evaluate facts and data rather than just accepting them at face value. 

man looking at whiteboard
An important part of critical thinking is reviewing information objectively and coming to a logical conclusion.

Why is critical thinking important?

A LinkedIn survey from 2016 found that critical thinking was one of top 5 skills that employers value. What’s more, mentions of critical thinking in job postings have doubled since 2009, according to Indeed.com. So it’s a really useful transferable skill to add to your CV.

Efficient and successful staff members know how to think critically. That’s because critical thinkers look beyond the basic information they’re given, and look at things from different angles. They don’t make decisions based on gut feelings. These qualities make for an employee who is able to solve problems and tackle challenges in a logical way.

Critical thinking also means that you have to gather information from lots of different sources and people, so it can help improve your teamwork skills and research abilities. It can also help you come up with new ideas.

Critical thinking skills also matter at school. You’ll be able to develop your own opinions, backed up with evidence and facts. Critical thinking leads to much better essays and in-class debates.

Here are a few examples of critical thinking...

  • A doctor gives a patient a check-up, researches their symptoms and diagnoses an illness.
  • A lawyer reviews evidence in court and comes up with a strategy to win the case.
  • A scientist analyses data from the lab to draw conclusions.
  • A marketing manager evaluates sales data to conclude whether a new product is popular with customers.

Remember this is just a handful of examples –you can apply critical thinking to any Career Zone or job role.

How to improve critical thinking

Show employers that you know how to think critically by trying out these techniques to develop your skills…

1. Ask questions

This first step is fairly simple, but it’s one a lot of us overlook. When you have a task or are trying to find solutions to a problem, go back to basics. Ask straight-forward questions. What information do you already have? Where did that information come from? What exactly are you trying to solve, prove or explain?

2. Question your basic assumptions

woman and man in conversation
Develop your critical thinking skills by questioning your basic assumptions and analysing everything you're told.

We all have biases about different situations – whether we realise it or not. Before any task, ask yourself, what do I believe about this scenario? Have I already formed any opinions? Take the time to really question all the assumptions you might be making.

3. Examine all the evidence

Are the facts you’re being given trust-worthy? What is the original source of that piece of research? Is this data objective? Thoroughly examine and investigate all the information you’re working with.

4. Think for yourself!

And finally, it’s important to draw your own logical conclusions and not be swayed by what other people think. Test information out and rely on your own powers of critical thinking!