What Are Critical Thinking Skills and Why Are They Important?

Written by Coursera • Updated on

Learn what critical thinking skills are, why they’re important, and how to develop and apply them in your workplace and everyday life.

[Featured Image]:  Project Manager, approaching  and analyzing the latest project with a team member,

Critical thinking skills are used by people every day, often without us even realizing it. When you make a decision, such as which cereal to have for breakfast, you’re using critical thinking to determine which option is better than the other.

Critical thinking skills can be fine-tuned to help in more high-level situations, such as workplace problems or when doing an assignment for school. To master critical thinking skills, it’s important to recognize what exactly they are and the scenarios in which they will come in handy.

What is critical thinking?

When you're a critical thinker, you are inquisitive and curious about the world around you. You’re able to see things in a bigger picture and analyze the different elements in any given situation.

Critical thinking skills come with the ability to back up your thoughts and proposed solutions, present your arguments to other people, and advocate for yourself and others. Critical thinkers contemplate their ideas before speaking and are not reactive or quick to jump to conclusions.

Examples of common critical thinking skills

Critical thinking skills differ from individual to individual and are utilized in various ways. Examples of common critical thinking skills include:

  • Identification of biases: Identifying biases means knowing there are certain people or things that may have an unfair prejudice or influence on the situation at hand. Pointing out these biases helps to remove them from contention when it comes to solving the problem and allows you to see things from a different perspective.

  • Research: Researching details and facts allows you to be prepared when presenting your information to people. You’ll know exactly what you’re talking about due to the time you’ve spent with the subject material, and you’ll be well-spoken and know what questions to ask to gain more knowledge. When researching, always use credible sources and factual information.

  • Open-mindedness: Being open-minded when having a conversation or participating in a group activity is crucial to success. Dismissing someone else’s ideas before you’ve heard them will inhibit you from progressing to a solution, and will often create animosity. If you truly want to solve a problem, you need to be willing to hear everyone’s opinions and ideas if you want them to hear yours.

  • Analysis: Analyzing your research will lead to you having a better understanding of the things you’ve heard and read. As a true critical thinker, you’ll want to seek out the truth and get to the source of issues. It’s important to avoid taking things at face value and always dig deeper.

  • Problem-solving: Problem-solving is perhaps the most important skill that critical thinkers can possess. The ability to solve issues and bounce back from conflict is what helps you succeed, be a leader, and effect change. One way to properly solve problems is to first recognize there’s a problem that needs solving. By determining the issue at hand, you can then analyze it and come up with several potential solutions.



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Why are critical thinking skills important?

Being a critical thinker makes you a well-rounded individual, one who has looked at all of their options and possible solutions before making a choice. It means you have put care and thought into the situation at hand and take it seriously.

According to the University of the People in California, having critical thinking skills is important because they are [1]:

  1. Universal

  2. Crucial for the economy

  3. Essential for improving language and presentation skills

  4. Very helpful in promoting creativity

  5. Important for self-reflection

  6. The basis of science and democracy 

Critical thinking skills are used every day in a myriad of ways and can be applied to situations such as a CEO approaching a group project or a nurse deciding in which order to treat their patients.

Applying critical thinking skills in your daily life

We make decisions every day that utilize our critical thinking skills. For example, we determine whether to merge into a different lane on the highway by quickly analyzing the information we have about the road, speed limit, and surrounding cars.

Critical thinking skills allow us to make decisions that help us move forward and progress as individuals. With critical thinking skills, we can decide which jobs to take, which people to surround ourselves with, and what kind of education we want to pursue.

Applying critical thinking skills in the workplace

Everyone can benefit from using critical thinking skills, whether they’re a manager or a subordinate employee. Whatever your title or position, being a critical thinker will not only help when working by yourself but also when working with your teammates.

You can help promote critical thinking skills such as analysis and problem-solving to your team. Your ability to communicate problems, solutions, and the things you’ve learned will help you and your teammates grow together and develop a greater understanding of the work that is being done within the organization.

When difficult situations arise, or you’re unsure of a decision to make, critical thinking is very beneficial. You can ask co-workers for advice on how to more efficiently complete your task, assistance, or their opinions on solutions to any given problem.

How to develop critical thinking skills

You can develop critical thinking skills every day simply by making choices, but there are ways to develop yours at a quicker rate and put them to use.

A great way to begin your critical thinking journey is to ask a lot of questions—be inquisitive about everything and anything. Separate your emotions from the facts and information you’re receiving, and ask questions to further your research. The more details, facts, and general information you receive, the more likely you are to make informed, critically thought-out decisions.

Next steps

Learn tips and tricks on how to become a better critical thinker and problem solver through online courses from notable educational institutions on Coursera. Start with Introduction to Logic and Critical Thinking from Duke University or Mindware: Critical Thinking for the Information Age from the University of Michigan.

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Article sources

  1. University of the People, “Why is Critical Thinking Important?: A Survival Guide, https://www.uopeople.edu/blog/why-is-critical-thinking-important/.” Accessed March 3, 2023.

Written by Coursera • Updated on

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