How to Improve Your Conceptual Skills

Written by Coursera Staff • Updated on

Learn how to improve your conceptual skills in the workplace by exploring what conceptual skills are and which ones are key to building as a professional.

[Featured Image]:  A professional wearing a white dress, working on a laptop computer and speaking on the phone, practicing conceptual skills to better understand and break down a problem.

Conceptual skills are key for professionals of all levels. These thinking skills allow you to approach problems and complex ideas from a broad view and develop innovative ways to approach new ideas. In this article, we will explore what conceptual skills are, how professionals use them in the workplace, and how you can build them in your professional environment.

What are conceptual skills?

Conceptual skills are abilities that allow you to understand the larger picture and ultimate goal. While being detail-oriented allows you to focus on the smaller specifics of a project, conceptual skills help you envision the project or concept as a whole. This is especially useful for complex or abstract ideas and is important for professionals for several reasons.

For one, understanding the bigger picture allows you to find ways to break down a complicated idea into actionable steps. It also ensures you are completing tasks in ways that serve a greater purpose. This can encourage you to focus on the right areas while cutting less important details if necessary. Conceptual skills also help you maintain a clear perspective of why things are being done the way they are. For example, if an organization is trying to save money to fund an exciting new project, you may understand why company lunches have a lower budget in the short term. 

What are some examples of conceptual skills?

Conceptual skills are important in managerial roles. Analyzing, creative thinking, problem-solving, and communicating are all significant conceptual skills.

  • Analytical skills such as research, critical thinking, information analysis, data analysis, and deductive reasoning are important for many roles. These skills allow professionals to break down complex concepts into small, easily-understood pieces of information. To effectively use analytical skills, professionals need to take a bird's eye view of the problem and determine the most appropriate way to formulate the solution. This involves analyzing risks, actionable steps, and the team members involved in the process.

  • Creative thinking is another key conceptual skill. When viewing the larger picture, professionals that can use creative thinking to view the end goal from different perspectives and brainstorm multiple solutions are often able to find new and innovative ways of approaching the topic. Skills in this area include restructuring skills, abstractive thinking, innovation, open-mindedness, and strategic planning.

  • Problem-solving skills such as decision-making, troubleshooting, solution execution, and logical thinking are essential for professionals employing their conceptual skills. These skills take the idea through to execution. Once you have viewed the solution from different angles, identified the best course of action, and determined the next step, problem-solving skills will allow you to effectively follow through with your plan.

  • Communication goes hand-in-hand in this phase, as clearly articulating each step will help project members and teams remain on track with a clear end goal in mind.

  • Other examples of important conceptual skills include leadership skills such as management, empathy, team-building, motivation, persuasion, and negotiation. When approaching a complex problem, leaders need to be able to put together teams with the right skill set and motivate them to want to solve the problem at hand. If leaders are unable to manage groups of professionals effectively, they will have more difficulty bringing their solutions to life.

How can you get better at conceptual skills?

Industry experts can often mentor you in the conceptual skills that will most benefit you in your position. Connect with professional leaders in your network that have demonstrated good conceptual skills. They may help you find ways to build these skills and practice conceptualizing relevant concerns.

Conceptual skills can be useful in almost every workplace role. Whether you are looking at company-wide concepts or understanding a new team mission, conceptual skills can allow you to form a deeper understanding of information and align your actions in the right direction.

Consider building the following conceptual skills to elevate your effectiveness and success in the workplace:

Actively listen.

Learning how to actively listen is important to hear critical information. This ensures you are in line with your team members and have a clear view of the topic. When working with a team, using good listening skills will benefit your communication and make it easier for you to function as a collective unit.

Be more observant.

Observing others who use conceptual skills is a great way to gain an understanding of what these skills are and how they are used in your industry. Observe leadership in your department and look for how each member breaks down complex problems and finds the easiest solution.

Ask lots of questions.

Asking questions is a great way to understand how leadership in your field thinks. This may provide insight into how to approach problems or complex concepts from new angles.

Keep an open mind.

Being open-minded is essential when allowing yourself to view a problem or concept from new perspectives. If you work with diverse teams or in an evolving environment, being open-minded will help prevent you from becoming stuck in a certain thought pattern.


Brainstorming helps to generate new and creative ideas. This can teach you to conceptualize concepts in new ways and expand your perspective to new potential solutions.

Improve your problem-solving abilities.

The world is constantly changing. Working on your ability to adapt to new situations will benefit your ability to conceptualize foreign concepts and come up with new ideas and solutions. This is a critical skill when managing teams and working in goal-oriented environments.

Read critically.

Reading books, articles, blog posts, reports, and studies can help you practice thinking in new ways and open your mind to new perspectives. It can also push you to conceptualize new types of problems and generate creative ideas.

Practice persuasion.

Being persuasive can help team members accept your idea and build trust in your leadership skills.

Improve your interpersonal skills.

To bring a concept through to the end stages, you will likely need to work with diverse team members and stakeholders. Learning how to negotiate, lead with empathy, and communicate effectively will help enhance your ability to lead projects.

How are conceptual skills used in business?

Many positions in the business industry use conceptual skills, but the most valuable conceptual skills will depend on your job responsibilities. For example, a manager may rely more on analytical skills such as information analysis and deductive reasoning, while an executive may need to use leadership skills such as persuasion and negotiation more often.

People regularly use conceptual skills in business to improve current operations. This involves looking at the company operations as a whole and identifying how certain areas may be contributing to lower productivity or affecting certain outcomes. An analysis can then be conducted to understand how different solutions may impact the working environment and which will yield the best results. Team changes and improvements can then be put in place to boost business success.

Next steps

Build your conceptual skills with a course from a top university on Coursera. Practice collecting, analyzing, and thinking about data with Mindware: Critical Thinking for the Information Age from the University of Michigan or Introduction to Negotiation: A Strategic Playbook for Becoming a Principled and Persuasive Negotiator from Yale.

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