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What is Critical Thinking?

When you hear or read something, do you accept and absorb it as fact, or do you examine the information from various angles, seek more sources, evaluate the merits and formulate an understanding? The difference: passive versus critical thinking.

The Foundation for Critical Thinking defines critical thinking as “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.”

Critical thinking skills allow us to examine information and situations and formulate knowledgeable assessments to make the best possible choices. Critical thinking also requires examining your thought process. Why do I think that? Why does he think that? Critical thinkers seek clarity, focus, and relevance in their thoughts and the thoughts shared by others.

Critical thinking allows you to analyze the way you think and present evidence for your ideas, rather than making statements without sufficient proof. S.M. Rayhanul Islam, an independent researcher, described it in a LinkedIn post as “self-directed, self-disciplined, self-monitored, and self-corrective thinking.”

Why is Critical Thinking Important?

The ability to think relevantly and solve problems methodically is something employers value but often report they have trouble finding, according to HR People + Strategy.

Employers want professionals who can solve problems on their own or as an effective member of a team. Ideal employees think critically, use good judgment, share their thoughts clearly and make decisions. Many employers seek candidates with liberal arts degrees because they tend to have well-developed critical thinking skills.

What types of careers benefit from this soft skill? The list is long and varied:

  • Actuary
  • Archaeologist
  • Attorney
  • Biomedical Engineer
  • Dentist
  • Doctors
  • Engineer
  • Event Planner
  • Financial Examiner
  • Judge
  • Operations Researcher
  • Pilot
  • School Principal
  • Scientist
  • Therapist
  • Urban Planner
  • Anthropologist

Improving Your Critical Thinking

“The best thinkers are those who understand the development of thinking as a process occurring throughout many years of practice in thinking,” Dr. Linda Elder and Dr. Richard Paul posted on The Foundation for Critical Thinking site.

Soft skills such as critical thinking are highly sought after in the workforce. By improving yours you can make yourself an asset to a future employer. So how can you start improving your thought development and bolster your critical thinking skills?

  1. Take it back to the basics and question your basic assumptions. Ask yourself, What do I know? How do I know that? What am I trying to prove? What am I missing? What do I assume that may be incorrect?
  2. Consider your thought processes. Be aware of your own biases and the ways your life experience may influence attempts at objective thinking.
  3. Evaluate evidence. Who gathered it, how did they gather it, and why? Examining information also requires examining its origin.
  4. Clarify your thinking. Sharpen your focus, pin down exactly what you’re trying to express and assign it meaning.
  5. Always think for yourself. Do your research, read the work and opinions of others, but don’t forget to take the time to digest what you discover and formulate your own thoughts.
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