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Upgrade Your Critical Thinking

Guest Blog by Tracey Lee

I think therefore I am

Or words to that effect.  A more precise translation of 17th-century philosopher Descartes’ might be, “I am thinking, therefore I exist.” (Maden, 2023).  Descartes’ made a point of reaching decisions only after careful consideration of all the facts and a willingness to disregard his own opinions.

Critical thinking is not just about the facts

It’s at this point we might consider parting company with Descartes’, as critical thinking requires that we do consider and evaluate reasoned arguments, some of which may be based on opinion.

Take, the “What if?” strategy, a scenario thinking tool for motivating people to challenge the status quo, or to get better at doing so, by asking “What if?” in a disciplined way (Scearce et al., 2004).  It’s easy for our thinking to become limited, restricted by embedded conventions.  This familiarity provides a level of comfort yet stifles innovation and opportunity for all voices and opinions to be heard.  Asking “What if’ encourages us to think beyond the norms, to put aside any preconceptions, misconceptions even, and to consider what could be and why.  To do this we need good critical thinking skills.

Key skills

There are many skills that feed into powerful critical thinking.  Skills like observation and inference, analysis and communication.  One’s ability to problem solve or resolve conflict and the ability to research and be adaptable are all highly valued skills.

This is not a complete list and reviewing these skills forms part of our training.  We explore the skills that contribute to critical thinking and establish which areas need developing.  We then deliver the training that specifically meets the needs of the team, enhancing their expertise and knowledge.

So what is critical thinking?

Critical thinking is the ability to think clearly and rationally about what to do or what to believe. To identify, construct and evaluate arguments devoid of emotional or irrational attachment.

Someone with good critical thinking skills is curious, a creative thinker who’s willing to reflect on and challenge any justification of their own assumptions.

The benefits of critical thinking

There are many benefits to having strong critical thinking skills, from both a personal and professional perspective.

Not only will it enhance your decision making and problem solving skills, you will also find it improves your communication, increases your creativity and provides you with the skills for better self reflection and learning.

You will find you understand more deeply, including your own learning and the perspectives of others, which leads to a sense of empowerment.

Furthermore, active use of critical thinking skills in the workplace will help to promote autonomy which will encourage a culture of trust and relieve pressure on management at all levels.

Barriers to critical thinking

The obvious barriers to critical thinking are a lack of expertise and knowledge.  Both of which can be overcome with sufficient training and support.

It is important to highlight that it is the way we think that can create blind spots and barriers when trying to actively critically think.

For example consider cognitive biases – the mental shortcut that influences our thinking and decision-making.  It is often unconscious and can lead to inaccurate or irrational judgements i.e. “they always say that”.

Another good example is groupthink – decision making based on what the group thinks.  So to stay part of the team and not “rock the boat” we do not voice our own opinions but go along with the group’s thinking.  Some might call this “herd mentality”.

Understanding your thinking is a significant step forwards in developing your critical thinking skills.  But, you cannot change your thinking patterns over night, and this is where coaching may be required to support the learning.

person in deep thought, critically thinking, pen in hand, infront of a laptop at a desk


6 ways to develop critical thinking

  1. Gain skills and knowledge so that you are fully educated on topics where you are being asked to give an opinion or make a judgement on – do your research.
  2. Practise “Go & See” – an observation technique where you just observe from all angles.
  3. Get feedback from a trusted person(s) about how you communicate and the meaning of your messaging – your inference.
  4. Get good at listening.  Active listening requires that we are fully present, that we listen with intent first to understand and are willing to reflect on what is being said before we offer opinion or solutions.  Doing so requires us to park our rank and ego, to acknowledge and actively consider views that may differ from our own.
  5. Use Root Cause Analysis to consider recommendations for solutions.  This can help you make more robust problem solving decisions if you use tools like the 5 Whys or Brainstorming.
  6. Employ a coach to help you raise your awareness to your cognitive biases and your thinking patterns and how you respond to conflict – these could be hindering your critical thinking ability.

In a world where we are facing an AI industrial revolution, it will be those with strong critical thinking skills that will stand out.  Reasoning and decision-making are currently the least automated workplace task, and account for just 26% of task automation.  It is clear that having well-developed critical thinking skills is essential.

If you feel you could benefit from critical thinking development, either through personal coaching or group education, get in touch.