Critical Thinking Skills You Need to Master Now

By L. Roberts on July 3, 2019

Critical thinking skills is one of the areas we lack most as a society. The ability to think critically comes from piecing together logic without getting swept away in emotion. In today’s world, college students, graduates, and even adults struggle to sharpen their critical thinking skills. Moreover, critical thinking skills aren’t a subject we study in school or are coached on in our professional lives. Instead, we are expected to assess and improve our own!

The majority of the world does not have strong critical thinking skills. We, as a society, cannot separate our emotions from logic when it’s “big decision” time. Instead, we often become wrapped up in our own emotions, leading us to make decisions and say things we don’t truly mean. The same is true when forced to perform under pressure. Think about a time when you’ve been tasked with a “survival scenario,” where you and a few others must rank the ten most important tasks to save your lives — in under two minutes. For some of us, working under pressure evokes certain emotions that cloud our judgment. We can no longer think clearly — we’re thrown into a panic — and we perform less efficiently and less effectively.

Critical thinking skills include using reason to constantly question, ask, and judge the world around you. Instead of taking things at face value, you dig deeper, searching for solutions to questions that may not have been asked.

via Pexels

If I’m already making you feel nervous, if you’re doubting your critical thinking skills, you likely need to spend some time in reflection and maybe even practicing being more present when situations arise that call for critical thinking skills (probably every day). If you know you need to practice your critical thinking skills or you want to assess your current skills, ask yourself these questions:

1. Can I recognize, build, and appraise arguments?

We all know what it’s like to be in conversation with someone who doesn’t understand our point of view. We easily become frustrated when we can’t get our point across, and we’re probably equally as frustrated when we don’t understand another’s argument.

When you find yourself in a situation with a group of people, viciously discussing the latest news article, top story headline, or world issue, do you find that you are able to recognize arguments that other people are making?

Can you analyze the information they give you in order to draw your own conclusions about their personality/beliefs/morals?

Actively displaying critical thinking skills means you can analyze another person’s argument, piecing together the information given to you in order to understand your peers/friends/coworkers/associates.

2. Can I identify inconsistencies/errors in reasoning?

Now imagine yourself in a situation where you’re out to dinner with your colleagues and your latest obnoxious coworker starts talking about one of the more “touchy” subjects in common times. They’re explaining their thoughts on the issue, and, before you know it, they’ve completely lost you with their logic/reasoning. Do you find yourself stopping to think about the inconsistency of another person’s reasoning? Do you actively investigate that discrepancy (whether it’s in your own head, with that person, or in a respectful conversation with someone else)?

When we display critical thinking skills, we’re actively engaging with people during conversation, following the logic they’ve used to create their conclusions. When it’s not consistent, it’s important that that inconsistency is explored — if only a little!

via Pexels

3. Do I approach problems in a systematic way?

When you’re given a problem at work, do you feel that you approach it in an organized, systematic way? Or do you find yourself scurrying around to find all of your materials once you’re amidst the project?

When we actively display solid critical thinking skills, we address problems in our lives in a way that makes us both efficient and effective. We use a system (if only in our head!) that takes us from one step to the next. If you find yourself frustrated that your projects never seem to get done — reflect on why they are left unfinished. Maybe you don’t approach them in a way that allows you to be both efficient and effective.

4. Can I think about situations from various points of view?

Nothing is more frustrating than talking to someone who has no idea what it’s like to be anyone else. This often happens when we meet people who seem to have been handed everything and come off as having never worked a day in their life. 

It’s frustrating to try and get someone to understand a problem from a different point of view. Are you a person who can put themselves in the shoes of others? If you can’t, dedicate time to reading the stories of others — and truly try to understand their struggles.

5. When I communicate my ideas, am I easily understood?

Do you find that when you’re with your friends, you’re often misunderstood? If you don’t portray your ideas clearly in a group of people, your critical thinking skills might be a bit off track.

Infographic by Lorena Roberts

6. Am I open to new ideas or ways of doing things?

Open-mindedness is one of the most important critical thinking skills. Those of us lacking in this department rely on “the way we’ve always done things,” and don’t look for ways to improve their current lifestyle. We call this “stagnation” and it can really put a damper on any relationship, whether it is romantic or not.

Think about your grandparents — they probably aren’t “up to speed” with technology, and may even resist using a cell phone. The “way they’ve always done things” is to wait for a letter or an in-person visit. Because they aren’t open to new ways of doing things, they’re missing out on something that can add so much value to our lives.

7. When I work with others, do I contribute an equal amount?

Critical thinking skills include the ability to collaborate. If you’re the person in the group who tends to stand back — that’s okay! It’s when you feel like you can’t contribute at all that you lack critical thinking skills. You let your emotions take over your actions instead of giving (what you are able!) to the group.

If you don’t think working with others is your strong suit, give yourself ample opportunities to collaborate. The more you practice, the better you’ll get. Just remember to actively reflect on your experience and assess your involvement in the project.

8. Do I engage in envisioning or imagining a future that’s “better off?”

When we tap into our creative side and use it to imagine the world a better place (in whatever facet), we use critical thinking skills to analyze our current situations and improve it within reason. It’s because people do this, ultimately, that the world becomes a better place.

If we all accepted our own fate, took what the world gave us, and never pushed the limits, we would lack some of the coolest inventions and some of the world’s most important sciences.

via Pexels

9. Do I actively spend time reflecting on my own beliefs and ideas?

We all know what it’s like to talk to a recent high school graduate about worldly issues: they simply repeat what they’ve heard their parents say without giving a lot of thought to their own ideas about the world. It’s easy to lean on the logic of others. But those with solid critical thinking skills have actively analyzed their own beliefs. When we spend time in reflection of our own ideas, we stand on a solid foundation during conversation and we have an easier time understanding the point of view of another person.

If you haven’t spent time thinking about why you believe what you believe, build that into your weekly routine. Continue to ask yourself where the foundations of your ideas about the world are rooted.

Critical thinking skills aren’t just something we talk about in personal and professional development seminars. Many employers want to see evidence of strong critical thinking skills in their job candidates. When you walk into an interview, you want to display some evidence of how you use critical thinking both in your personal and work life.

You can show your potential employer that critical thinking is part of who you are by mentioning the things you’re doing to sharpen those skills, specifically. If you’ve found that you have a hard time working in groups, talk about activities you’ve gotten involved in that’s helped you learn the value of collaboration.

If you’ve had to reflect on your own thoughts and ideas and you’ve found that they have no basis, dig deeper into the topics in which you’re interested. Challenge yourself to watch and listen to several different versions of the same news story, from various broadcasters. Arm yourself with all the facts and then have a conversation with friends and colleagues who will open up to you about their honest thoughts.

Analysis might be one of the hardest areas to practice on your own. You could try actively engaging in analysis when you’re out with your friends and family. However, you can also achieve stronger analysis skills if you build in time during your day to read and listen and take in the world around you. Read articles from various websites — think about the thoughts of others — find the flaws in their logic — completely dismantle their argument and then put it back together. Having strong analytical skills will make you a better employee, a better partner, and a better friend (not to mention — we need better critical thinkers in the world!).

If you’ve decided your critical thinking needs some work, there are several resources that can help you get yourself to where you want to be. Begin by using this website for some general tips on improving critical thinking skills. If you want to assess your critical thinking skills, use Indeed’s assessment at the link here.

In her spare time, she enjoys spending time with her pup at the dog park and binge watching Netflix with endless cups of Hot Cocoa.

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