Critical thinking has been very important in business, despite us probably not being mindful of it. It is a field that, according to employers surveyed by the World Economic Forum, has been flagged as ‘the key to the future of work for many sectors’.
In this article, we are going to share with you what critical thinking is, why it matters, and some ways to improve your own ability to utilise it.
What is critical thinking?
Critical thinking is a process of conceptualising, analysing, and evaluating information gathered from observation, experience, or communication to guide belief or action. For HR professionals there are three key areas relating to critical thinking:
- Detecting when others are using critical thinking
- Evaluating the ideas and arguments of others
- Coming up with our own ideas and arguments
Critical thinking helps human resources professionals make decisions in a more reflective way.
Why does critical thinking matter in HR?
HR and people management involves solving many problems for your business. Critical thinking is important in this capacity because it helps us avoid making decisions based on:
- Unconscious biases
- Incorrect assumptions
- Unreliable sources
Having strong critical thinking skills enables HR professionals at all levels to collect and process information in a structured way, aiding the problem-solving process.
Critical thinking also helps HR professionals engage in strategic conversations with internal business partners for whom critical thinking is a central part of their role (such as legal professionals, engineers or C Suite management).
HR teams are often asked to facilitate meetings around complex or difficult strategic issues. With critical thinking, you are likely to be in a better position to navigate these difficult areas in a way that offers insight and structure.
6 ways to brush up critical thinking
Critical thinking skills are not intrinsic, but are something that can be learned or improved upon. If you feel your skills need some improvement, we have provided HR professionals with 6 ways to develop critical thinking skills.
1. Be curious about your own thinking
It is natural for all human beings to develop a pattern of thinking that we use to navigate life and work. As an HR leader it is easy to believe something must be correct because it has ‘always been done that way’. Critical thinking helps us to break out of those patterns of passive thinking where little changes. Instead, it asks us to question how we think and look for problems that could be solved to make a situation or process better.
2. Recognise relevant data
The digital age means we are often overwhelmed by data. It is important that HR professionals remember that not all data is useful or relevant. As critical thinking skills improve it should become easier for you to divide information into what to ignore and what to pay attention to.
3. Try new ideas
It can sometimes be intimidating or threatening when you are faced with new ideas, but exploring these ideas is vital to personal development. Speak to colleagues or people in other departments for input on how things could be done, consider taking a course in an area of interest, or read up on news and insights in the industry that your business might be able to employ.
4. Support alternative views
Often businesses get stuck in a cycle of short-term thinking, getting things done to reach immediate goals at the expense of the bigger picture. Developing an organisational culture that is open to alternative views is an important part of facilitating critical thinking. Don’t wait for colleagues to challenge the status quo, actively encourage challenge through debates, informal conversations, or brainstorms
When provided with the space to do so, you and your colleagues may come up with many alternative ideas that improve existing processes and procedures across the organisation.
5. Spend some time to decide
A quick decision is the enemy of critical thinking. If you regularly make decisions on the fly, take time to reflect on whether, with the benefit of hindsight, they were always correct. As a people manager, it is important to take time to think about important decisions, particularly those that are going to impact the entire organisation.
If you love a proposal, take some time to think about potential negative implications. Try to look at it from a few different viewpoints. Put yourself in the shoes of someone of a different gender, race, religion, or occupational position. How will your decision impact them? If it is a very significant change, it might be worth interviewing a spectrum of people for their opinion before you make a final decision.
6. Avoid assumptions
The adage around ‘making assumptions’ is most certainly true when it comes to critical thinking. Before you unintentionally jump to a conclusion ask yourself:
- What are the facts?
- Is there a relationship between cause and effect?
- Is the language used to describe the issue ambiguous or clear?
These questions will help you avoid falling back on something you believe to be true without any proof.
Ultimately, when it comes to using critical thinking effectively, there is no one correct answer or method. You can use this skill to create several choices, all of which may work well.
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