How to develop and improve your critical thinking skills (with examples)

How to develop and improve your critical thinking skills (with examples)
Jobstreet content teamupdated on 09 August, 2023

Critical thinking is one of the most sought-after transferable skills in the corporate world. It ranks number one among the top five skills that employers look for. That’s according to the National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE). This is true not only in America but also in the Philippines.

In both countries, critical thinking skills are among the top criteria when selecting or hiring candidates. Companies value a candidate’s ability to analyze and solve problems. They also look for people who can check risks and assess evidence. People who can make decisions based on logic and astute discernments.

WeForum’s (WEF) The Future of Jobs report states "human skills ” will increase in value as the world of work changes in line with new technologies such as AI. Among these are critical thinking skills, creativity, persuasion and negotiation, and complex problem-solving.

The good news is, you can develop and improve your critical thinking ability. Helen Lee Bouygues, founder of Reboot Foundation, a company that aims to elevate critical thinking, says, “Critical thinking is a learned skill.”

In this article, you’ll learn how to develop your critical thinking ability. You’ll discover how to use it to benefit your work, career, and marketability. You’ll also learn how to use it to help your present and future organizations.

Understanding Critical Thinking

To understand this key soft skill, let’s look at some definitions and examples.

The NACE defines critical thinking as the ability to “identify and respond to needs based upon an understanding of situational context and logical analysis of relevant information.”

Critical thinking expert Helen Lee Bouygues said critical thinking is reasoning through pressing issues. It is also taking the time to evaluate a topic from all sides.”

She also quotes cognitive scientist Daniel Willingham: "Critical thinking can be divided into three areas: reasoning, making judgments, and problem-solving. Critical thinking means becoming skilled in all three areas. In layman’s terms, it means thinking well.”

Critical thinking contains the following elements:

  • Interpretation
    Understanding the meanings in information such as a set of data, a text, or a problem. It also includes understanding the implications and consequences.
  • Analysis
    Processing information and looking at the different aspects to find a solution.
  • Inference
    ⁠Concluding based on facts, sound evidence, and logical reasoning.
  • Evaluation
    ⁠Judging if the evidence supports your argument’s conclusion. It also helps you recognize if the conclusion follows logically from its premises.
  • Explanation
    ⁠Clearly and effectively communicating your reasoning and conclusion and defending your solution.
  • Self-regulation
    ⁠Reconsidering your interpretation when confronted with new information and facts.

Examples of Critical Thinking in Problem-Solving

To apply critical thinking to problem-solving, first identify the root cause of the problem. Next, brainstorm several solutions before selecting one.

By breaking down the problem into smaller, more manageable tasks, it becomes easier for you to solve the problem.

Here’s how to do it step-by-step:

  • Define the problem
    Identify the issue and understand its impact on the organization, so it can be addressed and resolved. Ask yourself: What constraint/bottleneck/issue prevents things from running smoothly?
  • Gather information and data
    Ask sources such as customers and colleagues for details about their experiences with the issue to better understand the problem.
  • Identify possible solutions
    After understanding the problem and gathering the required data, brainstorm with a team and identify possible solutions.
  • Evaluate solutions
    Each solution should be evaluated and compared with others to determine the best course of action.
  • Implement solutions
    After selecting the most suitable solution, implement the plan. Consider the opinions of other stakeholders and make changes to the plan if necessary.
  • Monitor and adjust solutions
    There are two phases to this: course correction, where you make adjustments throughout the entire process as required, and post-implementation evaluation, where you identify successes and areas for improvement.

Examples of critical thinking in problem-solving at work

  • A project is running behind schedule
    Look at the project timeline to identify where the project started to go off track. First, identify the potential root causes of the problem. Next, check the availability of resources such as time, budget, workforce, and equipment. Then, brainstorm solutions and choose the best course of action.
  • The company website needs a redesign
    Identify the stakeholders and objectives of the website – what are their needs and wants? Analyze the current website to identify any other possible problems or issues. Finally, develop a strategy that addresses the set goals and objectives.

Examples of Critical Thinking in Decision-Making

Decision-making involves looking at various possible courses of action and choosing the one that will provide a good outcome for your organization.

Here’s how to do it step-by-step:

  • Identify the goal
    What do you want to achieve for the organization? Some examples are reducing costs, increasing sales, and getting the brand to the public’s top-of-mind.
  • Gather and analyze information
    Analyze the data relevant to the situation. Open your mind to creative solutions.
  • Identify and evaluate alternatives
    Brainstorm with your team and list possible decisions or courses of action.
  • Choose the best alternative
    Consider all the requirements (such as resources) and the consequences of each option. Choose the one most likely to give your organization the best results and help reach the set goal.

Examples of critical thinking in decision-making at work:

  • Should a product or service be revised?
    First, determine consumer needs by analyzing customer insights and satisfaction data. Brainstorm feasible strategies, then decide which one to implement.
  • Where should the company focus resources for profitable growth?
    Examine industry trends and competitor strategies to develop doable tactics, then decide which to adopt.

Examples of Critical Thinking in Creativity

Critical thinking in creativity involves finding new and creative solutions to existing problems or issues. Academician Dr. Andrew Robert Baker called them “perhaps the most fundamental skills involved in making judgments and solving problems.”

While critical thinking enables us to analyze information and determine solutions, it is creative thinking that “drives progress forward when it comes to solving these problems,” Baker added.

He defined creative thinking as being able to “invent new solutions to existing problems that do not rely on past or current solutions.”

Here’s how to do it step-by-step:

  • Brainstorm
    This can be done by an individual or a team. Gather everyone to brainstorm  – think about the problem and its various aspects to devise innovative solutions.
  • Identify and challenge assumptions
    Are you still operating with the same old mindset that doesn't work? Find out what worked in the past and what failed. How can you do it better by trying something new?
  • Reframe problems
    Look at the problem from a different angle, not the usual one.
  • Use analogy and metaphor
    These two concepts may explain new or complex ideas. By comparing one thing to another, we may see things from a different perspective.
  • Experiment
    Try different ways of doing things to stimulate your creativity at work. For example, set artificial constraints such as lack of time or funds. How will this affect operations and what solutions can you devise?

Examples of critical thinking in creativity at work:

  • The company website’s customer service application is down:
    You can brainstorm with managers and IT for temporary alternatives such as using the telephone, email, social media, face-to-face consultations, and other communication platforms to entertain client concerns.
  • Managers want you to reduce operational costs in your department:
    ⁠Get your team together and listen to their ideas. Collaboratively create solutions that bypass regular practices, connect with emerging trends, and resolve the situation.

Examples of Critical Thinking in Communication

Communication is the sharing of meaning through the transfer of information. Using critical thinking in communication makes it more effective.

Here’s how to do it step-by-step:

  • Identify the message
    What message does your organization want to convey?
  • Identify the audience
    ⁠Who are you sending the message to?
  • Clarify the message and support it with evidence
    What should go into the message? What arguments should you include to persuade the target audience?
  • Consider counter-arguments
    Forestall objections to your message by anticipating counter-arguments and addressing them in your message.

Examples of critical thinking in communication at work:

  • An employee is not getting along with their teammate:
    Encourage them to use open communication to honestly express their thoughts and feelings. Together you can identify the issue and brainstorm solutions to resolve the situation.
  • A stakeholder is unhappy with the outcome of a project:
    Talk to the stakeholder and get the details of their concern. Gather the project team and have them use their experiences and ideas to analyze the problem and suggest solutions. Explain them clearly and amicably to the stakeholder.

Examples of Critical Thinking in Analysis and Evaluation

Critical thinking in analysis and evaluation involves examining data to identify trends and patterns and develop an understanding of events and issues.

Here’s how to do it step-by-step:

  • Identify the purpose of the analysis
    Ask yourself: What, why, and who are you analyzing? What is the goal or objective?
  • Process information
    ⁠Gather, organize, analyze, and evaluate the relevant data and information. Next, generate insights related to consequences, implications, and recommendations on what steps to take regarding the problem or concern.

Examples of critical thinking in analysis and evaluation at work:

  • A company is experiencing falling employee satisfaction and productivity:
    Analyze the company culture, workload, and compensation to understand the root causes of the problem. Then, hold a brainstorming session to come up with solutions.
  • A business wants to improve customer service and loyalty:
    ⁠Examine customer data and feedback to identify areas of improvement and develop new initiatives to address customer needs.

Examples of Critical Thinking in Self-Reflection

You can also apply critical thinking to yourself when you consider your performance, behavior, and actions to identify areas of improvement or growth.

Self-reflection is the act of carefully assessing yourself. Consider how you think about things, how this affects your behavior, what your skills are, and where you need to improve.

How important is self-reflection ? Business professors James R. Bailey and Scheherazade Rehman asked 442 executives about what experiences had the most impact on making them better leaders.  Their answers revealed the importance of making regular self-reflection a habit because it can “separate extraordinary professionals from mediocre ones.”

Here’s how to do it step-by-step:

  • Identify and challenge personal biases and assumptions
    Reflect on what your personal beliefs and values are. Do they prevent you from thinking logically about things and coming to fair, unprejudiced conclusions based on fact and evidence?
  • Reflect on past decisions and actions
    How have you behaved in the past? Have you let your personal biases and assumptions color your decisions?
  • Identify areas for improvement
    Where can you do better? How can you improve the way you think about things and view different perspectives?

Examples of critical thinking in self-reflection at work:

  • Frustration
    ⁠Reflect on the times you were frustrated or angry. How did you react? Were your reactions detrimental or beneficial? How did you resolve them? How do you think you can do better next time?
  • Failure
    Recall the times you failed. Did you learn any lessons, and did you use those to improve your performance and abilities?

The Benefits of Developing Critical Thinking Skills

Two colleagues discussing a project

Critical thinking skills, like other soft skills, are essential to have in the workplace, particularly with the strong trend toward automation and robotization in organizations around the world.

In 2018, 71% of total task hours across 12 industries were performed by humans, while 29% were performed by machines. By 2022, this was expected to shift to a ratio of 58% humans and 42% machines.

Roles that leverage “human” skills are expected to grow. Among these desirable skills are critical thinking, emotional intelligence, leadership, and social influence, which are set to “see an outsized increase in demand relative to their current prominence.”

In addition to being an in-demand skill and key to your career success, having well-developed critical thinking skills gives you other benefits :

  • Improved decision-making
    Critical thinking encourages you to engage deeply with information to recognize different paths you can take.
  • Enhanced problem-solving skills
    ⁠Critical thinkers show more commitment to solving a problem. This makes you better at your job.
  • Improved communication skills
    ⁠Being a critical thinker helps you understand and explain concepts and ideas to others with clarity and insight.
  • A better understanding of different perspectives
    ⁠As a critical thinker, you’ll be able to imagine being in another person’s shoes and become more open-minded to diverse views.
  • Increased creativity
    ⁠You’ll be able to see the bigger picture and better understand how things work in your organization. With this insight, you can increase your capacity to identify issues, apply corrective or preventive measures, and out-of-the-box solutions to problems.

The Barriers to Critical Thinking

A man thinking thoroughly

Being intelligent does not automatically make you a good critical thinker. Many people are held back by biases, overconfidence, and other factors that affect their critical thinking skills.

  • Personal biases
    We may think we’re already open-minded, but sometimes our preconceived beliefs, opinions, and attitudes may show up as cognitive biases. These affect your ability to effectively analyze a situation and reach a good decision.
  • ⁠Emotional influences
    Sometimes emotions could blind us to the facts and cause us to think less accurately or logically, leading to poor decisions. Emotional reasoning can make us resort or fall to weak logic or ignore evidence contrary to our point of view.
  • Lack of knowledge and understanding
    When we don’t know enough about an issue or situation, and we don’t take the time to research it, we can be prone to making mistaken analyses and coming to a wrong conclusion.
  • External pressures
    Deadline looming? Is the boss constantly looking over your shoulder? Are bills way overdue? Sometimes we feel overwhelmed by it all. It could be a sign of allostatic overload, which is the “cumulative burden of chronic stress and life events.” It can lead to the loss of capacity for critical thinking due to the inability to cope with external pressures.
  • Lack of time
    ⁠Remember running out of time to complete an exam at school? That’s one example of how lack of time can affect our critical thinking skills. It prevents us from being able to thoroughly examine and analyze an issue or situation, and from coming up with good solutions and decisions.

Critical Thinking in Practice

In the workplace

  • Improves decision-making processes: For the company and for yourself.
  • Facilitates conflict resolution and negotiation: For example, when dealing with an irate customer or getting a better deal from a supplier.
  • Enhances our communication skills : By objectively evaluating the situation, we can make our message clear, coherent, and persuasive.
  • Drives innovation: By encouraging the development of creative, out-of-the-box solutions to problems.

In our personal life

  • Boosts digital or media literacy: By helping us see the difference between fake and genuine news.
  • Enhances problem-solving and decision-making skills: We can solve our problems and make decisions when we think rationally, look at all sides of an issue, and consider consequences and impacts on ourselves and others.

Developing Critical Thinking Skills

A woman happy with her ideas

Here’s how to become better at critical thinking:

  • Listen actively
    This involves listening attentively and processing what is being said and responding in a meaningful way. It also means focusing on the deeper meanings compared to the surface information.
  • Ask questions of yourself and others
    Asking questions can push you out of your comfort zone to expand your knowledge and capability to think critically.
  • Challenge assumptions
    By examining your own biases and beliefs, you can determine if your reasoning and evidence are sound and if they follow a logical chain of thought.
  • Seek feedback
    This helps you gain knowledge from multiple perspectives. Listening to others can help to identify your personal biases that may have gone unchallenged for too long.
  • Continuous learning and development
    Be open-minded to new ideas and ready to learn new skills and ways of thinking.

How to Improve Critical Thinking Skills

A happy female employee at work

Improving your critical thinking skills can be achieved through the following:

  • Reflective thinking
    ⁠It is the practice of carefully and thoughtfully considering one’s thoughts and ideas to gain new insight.
  • Questioning assumptions
    ⁠This challenges our prior convictions and preconceived notions that can hold us back from discovering the truth.
  • Analyzing different viewpoints
    ⁠This allows us to accept and understand different opinions on an issue or topic, and find a wider range of solutions to problems.
  • Using problem-solving techniques
    They facilitate the process of understanding a problem and help pinpoint basic reasons for it, as well as help to evaluate and identify different solutions.
  • Using decision-making frameworks
    ⁠These require you to weigh the pros and cons of various solutions in an organized and structured way to come up with a course of action.

Tools and Techniques for Critical Thinking

You can enhance your critical thinking skills by using tools and techniques that can help you analyze a situation, identify potential problems, and evaluate potential solutions.

Here are the five most common ones:

  • SWOT AnalysisStrengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats (SWOT) are identified through internal and external analysis. Strengths and weaknesses are seen within the organization, while opportunities and threats are placed within the existing environment. By studying the results of each analysis, you can leverage the positives or mitigate the negatives.
  • Fishbone DiagramFishbone Diagram sampleUse this diagramming tool to analyze potential causes and solutions to a given problem. The diagram has a central “head” that looks like a fish head, and the causes and solutions branch outwards in the shape of a fishbone.
  • Mind MappingMind Mapping sampleA technique used to brainstorm solutions or ideas to a problem involves creating a visual representation of the issue, using symbols and images to represent each of the ideas generated.
  • Cost-Benefit AnalysisThis technique identifies which solutions are more cost-effective and beneficial. By comparing the cost and benefit of each option, you can make the best decision for your team or organization.
  • Decision TreesThis tool evaluates a range of potential outcomes based on individual decisions. Create a decision tree by breaking down a decision into a series of actions that can be taken and the potential outcomes of each action. Use the insights gained to choose the best course of action.

Benefits of a Workplace that Encourages Critical Thinking

Encouraging critical thinking at work can be beneficial for both the company and its employees.

  • It sharpens analytical and evaluative skills to generate creative solutions, contributing to the organization's growth.
  • It increases innovation and creativity by encouraging thinking beyond the current process and the exploration of ideas to create new and groundbreaking solutions.
  • Employees who are free to think critically and creatively have greater job satisfaction and higher employee engagement.

The Future of Critical Thinking

Critical thinking enables us to analyze the impact of changes on our lives, such as the rapid rise of AI. It helps us identify and assess the potential risks and benefits of these changes, make informed decisions, and discover opportunities that we might otherwise have missed.

While AI can offer many advantages, such as increased productivity and data accuracy, increased reliance on AI can hinder critical thinking and the development of creative skills. Because AI systems are imperfect, critical thinking is needed to determine if AI-based solutions are fit for public use and to guard against mistakes and unintended effects.

Critical thinking skills will always be essential due to the many challenges posed by swift technological and social evolution. By mastering this critical skill, we can be more agile and better prepared to meet the demands of this ever-changing world.


Critical thinking is an important skill to have in the workplace, and the demand for it and other “human” skills is expected to grow further.

The benefits of this skill are that it enhances abilities related to problem-solving, decision-making, creativity, communication, analysis and evaluation, and self-reflection.

Knowing the elements of critical thinking helps you identify your skill level and how much you need to improve.

While barriers may prevent successful critical thinking, knowing what these are helps you adjust and perform better. There are also ways to develop and improve your critical thinking skills and tools to help you apply them to problems.


  1. What are critical thinking skills, and why are they important?
    ⁠You need critical thinking skills because they allow you to analyze information objectively, make rational judgments, and logically solve problems. They help you develop other soft skills such as problem-solving, decision-making, and communication that are crucial in the age of AI.
  2. How can I improve my critical thinking skills?
    You can read and research materials on the topic, develop your skills through practice, training, and education, and be exposed to new ideas. Start by developing these three simple habits from Harvard Business Review: question assumptions, reason through logic, and diversify thought.
  3. Can critical thinking skills be taught, or are they innate?
    Both. While you may be naturally inclined toward critical thinking, you can also increase your skill level through education, training, and the application of best practices.
  4. What are some examples of critical thinking in everyday life?
    We use critical thinking daily when we analyze political arguments (which candidate is more rational?), find solutions to household problems (making purchase decisions, caring for your health), and question inaccuracies in advertisements or news stories (is this fake news or not?).
  5. What are the most common barriers to critical thinking, and how can I overcome them?
    Personal biases, emotional reasoning, lack of knowledge and understanding, external pressures, and lack of time can block critical thinking. To overcome these, learn to recognize when they are present and stay objective and open to new perspectives.
  6. How can critical thinking skills benefit my career development?
    Critical thinking skills are one of the most in-demand skills and will stay so for the next 10 years, wrote business influencer Bernard Marr in Forbes. With the rise of AI, many jobs will be lost to automation. But critical thinking and other ‘human’ or soft skills will remain necessary because bots can’t do them well.
  7. How can I encourage my colleagues to develop their critical thinking skills?
    You can build and exercise your critical thinking skills as a team. Here’s an easy guide from productivity coach Matt Plummer. Each time a problem arises at work do the following:

    ⁠Execute: First, do the task assigned.
    ⁠⁠Synthesize: Go through the available information and figure out what’s important.
    ⁠⁠Recommend: Determine what needs to be done.
    ⁠⁠Generate: Create solutions or alternatives based on visions and concepts.
  8. Are there any industries or job roles where critical thinking skills are particularly important?
    They are crucial in jobs related to research, data analysis, law, engineering, health care, education, and business. If you work in these fields or want to transfer to them, brush up on your critical thinking skills!
  9. What are some common misconceptions about critical thinking?
    You might think it is only for academics, it takes too much time, or is not creative. Not so! Everyone should develop their critical thinking skills because we use them every day to make decisions and solve problems in our professional and personal lives.
  10. How can I measure my progress in developing my critical thinking skills?
    You can do this by taking tests such as the California Critical Thinking Skills Test (CCTST), Business Critical Thinking Skills Test (BCTST), Business Reasoning Test (BRT), and Health Sciences Reasoning Test.

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