Teaching soft skills in the workplace: understanding critical thinking

Last week, we looked at the skill of problem solving in the workplace, which requires a lot of lateral thinking, creativity, and often teamwork. So how does critical thinking differ?

According to the 2018 paper ‘Developing soft skills and critical thinking’ published in The European Proceedings of Social and Behavioural Sciences: “a critical thinker is able to separate fact from fiction, honesty from lies, accuracy from inaccuracy”. The paper goes on to describe the vital components of critical thinking as “clarity, accuracy, relevance, [and] logic”.

Why is critical thinking important?

Young woman working at home engaging in critical thinking

As is the case with most explored in this series, critical thinking is highly integral to other soft skills. For example, this application of logic helps to assess priorities and improve time management, it enables strong project management which can help with teamwork.

Critical thinking in its simplest form is turning data into action. Or, in a less tech-sounding way, it is essentially the act of using information to make an informed decision.

Speaking of technology, let’s look at its place in problem solving and the use of logic in the modern workplace.

How has technology changed critical thinking?

Critical thinking - Man looking at several computer monitors displaying graphs and data

In a previous life, I worked in retail. The specific area of retail I worked in comes with a shopfloor workforce that largely fit into two demographics (with some exceptions of course). Parents or those of a similar age who grew up without access to modern technology and students of both school and university age who grew up surrounded by it.

As with each part of this series, the context of someone’s life experiences will inform their approach to this skill. Where someone 20 years into their career may rely on prior experience to understand a challenging situation, a college student working their first job may turn to the internet for advice. As such, there can be some misunderstanding on both sides about how critical thinking has evolved in our modern always-connected culture.

Creating a culture of continuous learning has never been higher on the agenda for L&D, and access to the plethora of information available online is as vital a part of this as ongoing life and work experience.

Critical thinking and the Internet

Young woman at a laptop using internet to engage in critical thinking

A new skill needed in the realm of critical thinking is that of dissecting digital information. As more of us turn to technology and the Internet to learn a broader range of skills and fill knowledge gaps at point-of-need, it’s important our workforce understand how to discern the real from the fake and the substantiated from the fabricated.

A great starting point is this series of educational videos on YouTube: Crash Course: Navigating Digital Information.

The Internet can prove to be a highly valuable problem-solving tool, with many younger workers in the habit of point-of-need learning. This is a fantastic opportunity to integrate your LMS into their working lives and habits with the introduction of a mobile-ready system and microlearning into your digital content curriculum.

Top 6 sought after critical thinking skills

Drawing of two bearded man thinking and solving problem

Critical thinking covers a range of skills in itself. Although it forms just one part of our soft skills series, it encapsulates a range of useful tools for every day working life and works in conjunction with a number of the other skills we’ve talked about.

On top of navigating digital information, here are some of the most important areas of critical thinking skills in the modern workplace.

1. Applying previous experience

Skills aren’t the only things that are transferable. Your prior experience is a valuable asset and it doesn’t just need to come from the world of work. The ability to transfer knowledge from previous jobs, education, or general life experience is a vital part of engaging in critical thinking.

2. Using logic under pressure

A large part of critical thinking comes from understanding the logical progression of any given situation. This ability to plan outside of the obvious track is a vital part of problem solving as well as contingency planning.

3. Emotional intelligence

There is a common misconception that emotional intelligence lies outside the realm of the critical. However, understanding the needs and emotions of others is incredibly important when it comes to navigating a great deal of situations in the workplace.

4. Analytical understanding

Another important component of critical thinking is being able to break down analytics and data. This can be everything from generating a digital marketing and revenue report for a client through to understanding the figures from the latest stock take.

5. Tying together contextual information

Context is hugely important in just about any work scenario. Being able to tie together a whole bunch of contextual information is how all of the elements of critical thinking really come together.

6. Open-mindedness

The cherry on top of the near-perfect critical thinking cake is open-mindedness. More specifically, I mean being open to trying new things, understanding new ways of thinking, and attempting to solve problems or conflict in a new way.

Other people’s perspectives are hugely valuable, so being open to both feedback and help go a long way to improving these skills.

Conclusion

In the modern always-connected, always-on world, it can be easy to assume critical thinking skills are going missing. However, just as the need to be open to suggestions and feedback is vital to the critical thinking and problem solving process, so is being open to new ways of researching and answering questions at the click of a button.

See some opportunity to develop critical thinking skills in your workplace? Download our soft skills training template below.

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