The Importance of Critical Thinking in the Workplace

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By Dr. Sabrina Brandon Ricks, SBR Workplace Leadership Services

Did you know that you make over 32,000 conscious decisions throughout any given day?  Think about it – you have to decide rather to hit snooze on the alarm or get up this time.  You have to decide how to style your hair for today.  You have to decide how much toothpaste to use to brush your teeth, how much deodorant to put on, which clothes to wear, and more.  When you step into the workplace, you decide if you would like to grab a cup of coffee, speak to colleagues on your way to your desk, check your company mailbox, and what to work on as you get settled in at your desk.  There are some decisions that become routine to address and others that require more focus and attention.

According to the Foundation for Critical Thinking, the technical definition of critical thinking is:

the intellectually disciplined process of actively and skillfully conceptualizing, applying, analyzing, synthesizing, and/or evaluating information gathered from, or generated by, observation, experience, reflection, reasoning, or communication, as a guide to belief and action.

Essentially, critical thinking is described simply by Dena Alban as thinking about thinking.  How often do you stop and think about why you make the decisions you make?  Do you consider what the alternatives to the decision could be?  Do you consider what the consequences of a decision may be?  There are all key components to making a well thought out and informed decision.

A Soft Skill

Many employers are seeking critical thinking as a soft skill when employees are hired and enter the workplace.  No matter which industry you choose to work in, you need to be able to make reasonable, rational, and logical decisions without relying on a manager or teammate to make decisions for you.  There will many times be instances in your workday where you have to make an informed decision for yourself.  For example, if you are presented with a budget decision to cut a community program offering or terminate an employee, you will have to weigh the options based on the information you have and seek in order to make the best decision for the organization.

The process of critical thinking should include:

  • Clarification of the problem
  • Avoiding generalizations, bias, or judgment
  • Asking questions
  • Research & observation
  • Determine potential solutions
  • Select a solution
  • Follow-up on the selected solution
    • Determine if it is too late to make a change, if necessary

Look Through an Objective Lens

One of the main issues that is made with critical thinking is that an employee will often only research individuals who think the same way as they do.  One has to force oneself to look at a problem and determine solutions from all sides, no matter “whose side” they may be on.  Try to look through an objective lens, ask questions, do more research, and find a solution whereas many people involved in the situation can all see a perceived benefit and advantage, when possible.  According to David Ricks, an employee will likely always face some conflict in the workplace but it is important to be fair, try to find a resolution to satisfy all parties involved, and determine how to best communicate which decision has been made.

A Skill that can be Practiced

Critical thinking is a skill that can be practiced and in turn will produce greater results in interpersonal skills, creativity, teamwork, work ethic, and initiative.  Do not stop working to make improvements, grow professionally, and ensure everyone feels good when they step into your workplace.  SBR Workplace Leadership Services can provide guidance in offering critical thinking workshops, other organizational trainings, executive coaching, curriculum design, and more. Contact SBR Workplace Leadership Services to learn more.

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