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I want to be a critical thinker

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By Sandra Wiley, PHR, SPHR

As I travel around the country to conferences and meetings with clients, one concern seems to frequently bubble to the top — a lack of critical thinking skills. When I ask those who are concerned if they have those skills, they often laugh and say, “I think so.” But as one very honest 45-year-old professional acknowledged, “I want to be a critical thinker, but I’m not even sure what that means.”

Critical thinking is defined as disciplined thinking that is clear, rational, open minded and informed by evidence. While that sounds like most of the successful professionals I know, many the leaders today have a strong feeling that this ability is fading. So if you are wondering about your own critical thinking skills, or if you want to help others develop theirs, here come five strategies that will help.

Be a continuous learner

Learners are individuals with a natural sense of curiosity who want to know what is going on in the world and in their profession. They read and talk to people, educating themselves without being told they have to. They make habits of reading publications online, talking to people who know something they do not, listening to TED talks and/or attending conferences. It does not matter how they learn; the act of gathering new knowledge is the important strategy. The more you know, the more evidence you have to consider when making a decision.

Make decisions for the future

Boomer Consulting has been a strong advocate of creating organizations with a shared vision and not just shared services. In other words, do you work with an all for one and one for all mentality, or do you work to be all about you? Critical thinkers put their egos aside and think about what is best for the long term, even if that is not the best solution for the individual. Their goal is to seek to understand and then make a clear and rational decision that is best for the majority.

Listen and consider unconventional opinions

Many call this outside-the-box thinking. Critical thinkers have a tendency to seek out new solutions to old problems. They don’t like the phrase, “That is the way we have always done it.” They also see that collaboration with their team, their profession and often, even their competitors, will bring about the best solutions – and they are OK with that.

Avoid analysis paralysis

While the description above involves looking closely at the details and finding evidence, critical thinkers avoid the trap of gathering too much information and getting stuck in the decision-making process. They can see the big picture and recognize that they will never have 100 percent of the information they might be able to gather. They also know they can move forward and adjust their decision later, if necessary.

Analyze thyself

Critical thinkers develop a skill for communicating how and why they came to their conclusions. They are willing to change their views if they are provided with information that allows greater understanding and often will analyze their decision internally before they share with others on their team.

While these strategies are most often skill sets we are born with, they can also be developed. This does not happen in a short time period, but it is absolutely necessary if you hope to achieve upward mobility and/or leadership. Practicing the five strategies I’ve described will improve your critical thinking and everyday decision-making ability.

2015.07 Sandra Wiley Headshot - Grey Background_NEWSandra Wiley, PHR, SPHR, is a shareholder and senior consultant at Boomer Consulting Inc.