Critical thinking in the workplace


Author: Ilinca Stroe


„Critical thinking” tends to become a buzzword in the fields of education and human resources: reforming voices from tertiary education maintain that in the 21st century education should include the methodical shaping of critical thinking during the last undergraduate year (through subject matters like logic, moral philosophy, research methods and tools, etc.), while in human resources critical thinking is considered one of the top abilities expected from an employee (according to a 2015 study carried out by the Victoria University of Wellington, for instance, critical thinking ranks 4 in the top 10 most searched-for attributes in the workplace).


But the term can sometimes be misunderstood. May it be related to being critical about actions or events and criticising the people around us? If that were so, who would want a workmate equipped with such relentless critical spirit? Their influence would probably end up being negative, overall, and creating an unpleasant atmosphere at work.


That’s not the case, though. To clarify the term, let us mention that critical thinking, although hard to measure, is defined as the intellectual skill which ensures a disciplined process of analysing, synthesising and evaluating information obtained through observation, experience, reflection or communication, in view of forming beliefs and setting a course of action. In fact, rather than a skill per se, critical thinking is an approach. When we think critically, we approach the subject in a certain way:


Ÿ we clarify the scope of our analysis of the subject

(“What am I trying to get?”)

Ÿ we formulate questions that are suitable for analysing the subject

(“What questions do I have to answer to sort out this subject?”)

Ÿ we identify the assumptions linked to the subject and we examine whether they are justified

(“What evidence supports this statement?”)

Ÿ we define our point of view or perspective upon the subject

(“From what point of view am I approaching the subject?”)

Ÿ we identify other points of view on the subject

(“Are there any other perspectives worth considering?”)

Ÿ we base our reasoning on data, information, evidence

(“What experience or information supports this statement?”)

Ÿ we identify and remove biases and mere assumptions

(“What am I taking for granted?”)

Ÿ we explain clearly the concepts and key points of the reasoning

(“Can I explain this idea?”)

Ÿ we outline the positive and negative implications and consequences of the reasoning

(“If we accept this conclusion, what are the consequences?”)


We can easily imagine a meeting in any company, for example about repositioning on the market a product of the company, and following the kind of procedure detailed above. Taking an approach based on critical thinking, that meeting has every chance to be a success and result in solutions that are sound, solid, well thought out and relevant to the subject of the repositioning. And that’s because critical thinking ensures a rigorous, fair and comprehensive analysis of the subject.


Thus, the benefits of using critical thinking in the workplace are unanimously acknowledged by the specialised literature, and they include the possibility to generate multiple solutions or to make better decisions. To detail, let us mention that employees who apply critical thinking in the workplace have the ability to

Ÿ challenge the status quo in a productive way

Ÿ generate new ideas

Ÿ uncover solutions which are not obvious

Ÿ conduct more accurate self-assessment

Ÿ support their viewpoint with arguments

Ÿ explain well and clearly an idea

Ÿ understand a different point of view

Ÿ work well with various personality types

Ÿ be fair

Ÿ produce balanced reasoning

Ÿ make sound decisions

Ÿ avoid bias and manipulation


It is, then, easy to see how critical thinking can contribute to having efficient meetings, giving effective presentations, carrying out negotiations or consolidating a team. Hence, critical thinking is considered a soft skill which is vital for the organisation’s success, with long-term benefits in teambuilding, productivity and reducing conflict. Developing critical thinking among employees is considered important by 70% of the managers included in a study done by the American Management Association, and it can be achieved without using a lot of resources or special training: instead, it does take extra attention and awareness to apply it in everyday activities.







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