We are bombarded with tons of facts, news reports and research results on the internet, in printed newspapers, on social media networks and via the television everyday. There is so much to take in and it’s up to us to determine what’s true and what’s not, and what we need to know and what can be ignored, now more than ever.
This is essentially critical thinking. We look, evaluate, analyze and apply knowledge to form a judgment about a particular topic.
In this article, we’ll discuss what critical thinking is, why this skill is so important for a successful career and how to improve it.
What Is Critical Thinking?
Essentially, critical thinking is when you use your knowledge and experiences to make the best possible decisions. It’s when you approach information from an impartial standpoint, without your personal biases and subjective opinions getting in the way.
Critical thinking allows individuals to connect ideas, evaluate arguments, and find inconsistencies within a topic, so that they can come to a conclusion.
People with strong critical thinking skills don’t rely on what feels right, or what they want to be correct. Instead, they examine, analyze, interpret, and verify all facts available before declaring that something is true or not true.
Why Is Critical Thinking So Important?
Critical thinking is one of the most sought-after soft skills by employers - and there’s a good reason why!
Employees with such skills are better at dealing with complex problems and finding the best solutions to issues that occur in the workplace. They are capable of making decisions independently and don’t need constant hand holding from their manager. And these skills are desired and are very valuable in any industry and position.
Doctors that need to determine what medicine to prescribe, attorneys choosing a strategy to win a case, plumbers evaluating what materials they need for a particular job are all using critical thinking skills.
Basically, any job where you’ll be making choices, finding the best solutions and making hard decisions will require critical thinking skills.
Think about it like this, if you’re a software developer, it’s vital that you think through every single possible approach you could use, thus covering all the pros and cons, before starting to write a code. You don’t want to make your choices based solely on a subjective opinion, or because you have always done something in a particular way.
Critical thinking is what helps you to build a foolproof strategy, and it helps you to avoid making big and costly mistakes when working on an application.
Now, let's talk about what the critical thinking process looks like.
Steps Involved in Critical Thinking
We can break down the critical thinking process into four stages.
- Identify an issue. The more precise a question is, the easier it is to find an answer.
- Collect information. Once the problem is known, the next step is to gather all the facts, the opinions, and the arguments surrounding the topic.
- Analyze data. Once the information is collected, it should be analyzed. At this stage, you evaluate sources, figure out what facts are the most important and identify cause and effect relationships.
- Develop conclusions. And the final step is to decide which action to take, or which solution is the best fit for your problem.
Of course, you don’t have to think, "All right. I have finished collecting data and I’m starting to analyze information" each time you decide what to order for lunch. But understanding what steps are involved in the critical thinking process will help you to build a strategy to improve your critical thinking skills.
Let’s check out how you can improve your critical thinking skills.
How to Improve Your Critical Thinking Skills?
As with any other skill, improving your critical thinking abilities will take time and practice. Try to keep these tips in mind when making choices in your everyday situations.
- Question yourself. Build a habit of asking yourself some questions before jumping to a conclusion: "How do I know what I think I know?", "Did I collect enough information to make a decision?" or "Was I biased in my search for answers?".
- Evaluate the credibility of sources. Always consider where you’re getting your information from. Remember, not everything that is written in books or on the internet is true. Sometimes, authors try to manipulate readers' opinions. Ads are the most obvious example of such situations. Other times, writers can genuinely believe in false facts. Make a habit of checking at least two sources. Three sources would be better though.
- Be open-minded. To think critically, you need to put aside any assumptions and analyze all available facts objectively. And learning it isn’t as easy as it might sound. The human brain tends to search for things that confirm one's prior beliefs or preconceived opinions, and thus they ignore contradicting information.
- Accept the fact that you won’t always be right. Nobody likes to admit that they’re wrong. However, the ability to recognize that you’re wrong is key to improving your critical thinking skills.
Practice a lot, make these habits stick, and you’ll see results in no time. In time you’ll notice that you consume information more consciously, interpret other people’s statements better, and defend your own beliefs much more confidently. And these skills are precious both in your professional and personal life.