We spend a significant proportion of our daily lives making decisions. There are mundane decisions (What shall I have for dinner?) to life-defining choices (Should I take that job or relocate to a new area?).
For some people, decision-making comes naturally. Others find it much harder – they may need information or analytics to make an informed choice.
When it comes to the world of work, critical thinking and decision-making can be the difference between progressing in your career or remaining stagnant. Employers want their staff to feel comfortable in their decision-making skills.
Whether it’s about taking a risk, not being afraid to make a mistake, or even knowing how to justify tough decisions, those with strong decision-making skills can find themselves at an advantage.
So, how can we improve our critical thinking and decision-making skills? Is it as simple as tossing a coin and choosing an answer? Or are there techniques we can learn that will naturally improve our ability to make snap decisions?
Let’s find out.
What Are Critical Thinking and Decision-Making?
Let’s start by understanding the core definitions of critical thinking and decision-making. Some people may use these terms interchangeably, but there are subtle differences between them. Critical thinking is about using various pieces of information to understand and interpret something. You may be presented with a problem, and an answer may seem obvious. But critical thinkers look beyond the initial information provided.
They may use their observations or outside knowledge to inform their thought process. They may use their reasoning skills to deduce whether something is out of the ordinary or if they can ‘think outside the box’ to create a conclusion.
It’s about viewing a situation or scenario from every possible angle and understanding how you can use different perspectives to come to a different conclusion.
Some people believe that critical thinking is a skill. Others think it’s a natural talent.
Decision-making is about choosing between a range of options.
In the business world, it can be about choosing which product or service to push or deciding which candidate to hire. Decision-makers need to make confident, informed decisions that may have lasting consequences.
Why Is It Important to Be Good at Critical Thinking?
Critical-thinking skills are highly sought after by employers because businesses are run on decisions. Wrong decisions can lead to disastrous consequences. Your critical-thinking skills are needed to help you consider different perspectives and various options before making any decision.
Critical-thinking skills are so essential that just five years ago, the World Economic Forum predicted that problem-solving and critical thinking would be the two most desirable skills employers would be looking for.
Imagine you’re a manager who is preparing to recruit. Should you hire someone with the ‘perfect-on-paper’ skills and qualifications? Or should you hire someone who will fit in seamlessly with your team? Perhaps the person who shows the most signs of potential but has the least experience could be a better option.
With critical thinking, you can carefully consider all the different scenarios and feel more confident in your final decision.
“Critical thinking allows you to always soberly assess the situations taking place in your work, give an objective assessment, including your own actions and the actions of others, effectively negotiate and find the best way out of ambiguous situations.”
As a skill, critical thinking can be good for your health. If you can think carefully about what is being presented to you (and, more importantly, what is not), you may reduce your stress levels and anxiety.
That’s because you’re making your decisions based on logic and reasoning. As a result, you’re making informed choices, and you are aware of what you are being told.
What’s more, the more you practice critical thinking, the more confident and happier you can become. If you can improve your critical-thinking skills, you may be less likely to catastrophize or develop a fear of missing out (FOMO). You’ll also become more self-aware and will be able to spot any biases that could prejudice your decision-making capabilities.
Critical thinking may improve your relationships – both personal and professional. This is because you’ll become better at empathizing with other people’s viewpoints. You’ll learn how to consider other people’s perspectives, and you’ll become a better listener.
In the workplace, this could bring huge improvements to your role as manager because you’ll work more effectively and contribute to better team harmony.
How Can You Improve Your Decision-Making and Critical-Thinking Skills?
Developing a sense of self-awareness is key to improving your critical-thinking capabilities and decision-making processes.
First, you may want to assess your strengths and weaknesses. Then, once you’re aware of your flaws and any cognitive biases, you can continually ask yourself: “Are my responses influenced by x, y, or z?”
With that awareness, you will naturally start to think more critically.
So, how do you think critically? To get started, it may help to think of it as a process of elimination.
Take yourself step by step through a series of thought patterns:
- What are you trying to do? What is the question that needs answering or the problem that needs solving?
- What information do you have? Have you been given facts from different sources? Can you verify one person’s opinion over that of another? Can you secure different perspectives or insights? What is your wider knowledge and understanding telling you?
- Have you considered the information objectively? Can you look at the information and see if any clear biases are showing? For example, if someone tells you something about a project or a problem with a co-worker, are they being objective, or are they showing their own biases?
- Do you have all the information that you need? As you start to weigh up your information, are there any clear gaps? If so, can you collect more details to fill those gaps?
- What is your conclusion? Can you draw an informed judgment based on the information presented and the wider knowledge you gleaned from considering different perspectives? Can you consider the consequences of that decision (if necessary), and can you communicate that to others?
This five-step process will help you to see how you can think more critically.
The approach will not only improve your decision-making capabilities, but it can help you to become a better problem-solver, a better listener, and a better manager.
To help you with each step, here are a few techniques to incorporate into your daily routine. The more you actively try to think critically, the more natural it will become.
Be Curious and Ask Questions
Curiosity is the key to critical thinking because it helps you to constantly question if you are being told the right information or whether you need to embark on a fact-finding mission.
It could be as simple as asking someone to repeat themselves, so you know you’ve heard correctly. Or it could be about looking to identify another person’s biases or prejudices.
An easy way to improve your critical thinking is to look at how you consume the daily news. If you read the news online, where are you getting the information from? Is it a reputable source? Does that source have any known bias that could distort the information or the interpretation of that information? It’s not about ‘fake news’, it’s about understanding the nuances in the information provided.
Try to read different articles about the same subject from various media – how does a tabloid’s write-up compare to a broadsheet? In the UK, the political leanings of publications are widely known. For example, The Guardian (a broadsheet) has a reputation for being very ‘left-leaning,’ while the Daily Mail (a tabloid) is right-leaning. Can you identify a story covered in both publications and see how different information is presented?
Avoid Making Assumptions
Critical thinking is about fact-finding. It’s necessary to consider the information you already have and find evidence for it. How reliable is your data? Is the information up to date and legitimate? Critical thinking should always drive you to find as many facts as possible. Then, you can use your critical-thinking skills to make informed decisions.
We mentioned earlier that you must be aware of your strengths and weaknesses. For example, do you only surround yourself with like-minded people? Can you honestly say that you always consider different experiences and other people’s perceptions of reality? You need to be self-aware to help you understand how and why you are reaching certain judgments.
An easy way to improve your critical thinking is to ask people in different departments for their opinions. Talk to people of different ages, races, genders, and levels of seniority for their perspectives – you may find that they approach scenarios and situations very differently from you.
Break Down Information into Smaller Pieces
As part of your curiosity and fact-finding mission, you may need to break down the information into smaller chunks. If you have a big problem to solve, you may easily become overwhelmed or struggle to find a suitable solution. But if you can break it down into smaller steps, you will have more information to assess critically, and it could completely change your perspective and your way of working.
Understanding the bigger picture isn’t always about looking at everything in one place. It’s about understanding how decisions on smaller elements can impact other areas.
For example, imagine that you have a problem with your website. Your critical thinking may deduce that you need to consider the imagery, the content, the usability, and the SEO. You may deliver a spectacular site that manages all these components. But if your sales staff use your website, are they finding it easy to navigate? Can they convert their sales? Similarly, if your site’s technology doesn’t align with your wider technical infrastructure, have you created more problems than you had to start with? Finally, would you have approached the project differently if you had worked with different perspectives from the outset?
Know What You Want to Achieve
Critical thinking is about understanding your destination and figuring out the best journey to take. By knowing what your initial objectives are and what you are trying to achieve, you can ensure that your critical thinking will always remain true to that vision.
Keep It Simple
Finally, critical thinking may seem like a lot of work, but it’s important to keep it simple. It can become easy to overcomplicate matters.
Ultimately, critical thinking comes back to three simple points.
- What problem or situation do you need to think about?
- What information do you have, and is it reliable?
- Have you got everything you need to make the right decision?
Critical thinking isn’t just a skill for the workplace. It’s a tangible thought process that you should use in your daily life. The more you question the information you’re given, the more you can feel that you are making accurate, informed decisions.
Today’s digital world comprises opinions, truths, half-truths, inaccuracies, and lies. Using critical-thinking skills, you can decide for yourself what is true, and you will naturally become a better leader, a better problem-solver, and more confident in your thought processes