How to Use Critical Thinking in the Workplace

Critical thinking requires you to put away your biases and examine all sides of an issue.

Critical thinking requires you to put away your biases and examine all sides of an issue.

Some things you do at work, are easy; others require you to put on your thinking cap. Planning an event or creating a new product require a lot of thought. The more deeply you examine the idea, the more likely you will be to recognize facets of the idea that may be good -- or bad -- for your business. This thought process is called critical thinking, and in the workplace, its basic premise is to explore all sides of an issue without letting your personal bias rule your decisions.

Define the question you are trying to answer, and the outcome you would like. Knowing the question you are trying to answer is the first step toward critical thinking, advises the Foundation for Critical Thinking. Whether you are in a group or working on your own, consider the facts of the problem you are trying to solve. Make a list of the various factors that go into solving the problem, and then write down the question to make sure it's clear to everyone involved.

Gather as much information as you can to help you solve the problem. Critical thinking requires examining the issue from all sides, so use resources in your workplace, at the library or online to discover the various sides of the issue and who may be involved or affected. In some cases, one department may be trying to solve a problem that requires the expertise or input from another department. Don't hesitate to invite more voices into the dialogue. They may have important information to share about the issue.

Create a master list or brainstorm sheet that explores all facets of the problem, including the consequences of each step. Make this an ongoing document to which people can add information as new ideas or issues come to light. When a new issue or idea comes up, use good communication skills to let others know why it's important, how you came to the conclusion and how it's more logical or a better fit for the problem at hand.

Be willing to make changes, even if that means you're not right. A big part of critical thinking is not getting defensive if your idea is not the one that is favored or chosen. It also means being a good listener, showing other members of the team that their ideas are valid. If changes are made and you're not happy about them, try to examine whether it's a personal bias or hangup that is causing you to object or whether it's really a bad business move. Separating your personal feelings from what is good for the issue at hand is a big part of critical thinking.

Present your ideas -- whether that be to a boss, co-workers or customers -- in a way that demonstrates you have examined all sides of the problem. This may be a "pros and cons" list or an executive summary that explores the issues and comes to a logical conclusion.

Tip

  • Workplaces can be competitive, and even when you are examining issues from all sides, some co-workers may get jealous or upset when their ideas are discarded. To keep this from happening, be open about your critical thinking process. Let others know you're committed to hearing all sides, and that it's not personal, but the best ideas will be the ones that are best for the business in the long run.
 

About the Author

Nicole Vulcan has been a journalist since 1997, covering parenting and fitness for The Oregonian, careers for CareerAddict, and travel, gardening and fitness for Black Hills Woman and other publications. Vulcan holds a Bachelor of Arts in English and journalism from the University of Minnesota. She's also a lifelong athlete and is pursuing certification as a personal trainer.

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