Career Insider

5 strategies to grow critical thinking skills

Through continuous learning and reasoned but rapid analysis, professionals can become better critical thinkers.
By Sandra Wiley

Critical thinking skills are often mentioned as a key trait employers seek in potential hires. But what exactly is critical thinking? Conversations with other professionals show that not everyone is certain about the definition.

Critical thinking can be described as disciplined thinking that is clear, rational, open-minded, and informed by evidence. While that seems to describe the ability of many accounting professionals, some leaders in organizations today have a strong feeling that this ability is fading. Here are strategies that will help you and your team grow critical thinking skills:

Strategy 1: Be a continuous learner. Learners have a natural sense of curiosity about the world and their profession. They read and talk to people. Basically, they educate themselves without being told to. This can come from reading, talking to subject matter experts, listening to lectures online, or attending conferences. The more workers know, the more evidence they have to consider when making a decision.

Strategy 2: Make the right decision for the majority. Critical thinkers put their egos aside and think about what is best for the overall organization, even if that is not the best solution for the individual. Their goal is seeking to understand and then making a clear and rational decision that is best for the majority.

Strategy 3: Listen and consider unconventional opinions. Critical thinkers have a tendency to seek out new solutions to old problems. They don’t like the phrase “that is the way we have always done it.” They also see that collaboration with their team, their profession, and sometimes their competitors will bring about the best solutions, and they are OK with that. 

Strategy 4: Avoid analysis paralysis. Critical thinkers will avoid the trap of too much information and getting stuck in the decision-making process by looking at the big picture and the details. They recognize they will never have 100% of the information they might be able to gather, but they also know they can move forward and adjust a decision later if necessary.

Strategy 5: Analyze yourself. Critical thinkers develop a skill for explaining to others why they came to a specific conclusion. Others can follow their reasoning and can understand their thinking. They are willing to change their views when they are provided with more information that allows greater understanding.

While the skills associated with these strategies come naturally to some, the skills can also be developed. This development won’t happen quickly, but practicing the strategies can improve critical thinking and everyday decision-making.

Sandra Wiley

Sandra Wiley is the COO of Boomer Consulting in Manhattan, Kan., and is a speaker on topics such as team building, talent development, and performance improvement.


How to make the most of a negotiation

Negotiators are made, not born. In this sponsored report, we cover strategies and tactics to help you head into 2017 ready to take on business deals, salary discussions and more.


Will the Affordable Care Act be repealed?

The results of the 2016 presidential election are likely to have a big impact on federal tax policy in the coming years. Eddie Adkins, CPA, a partner in the Washington National Tax Office at Grant Thornton, discusses what parts of the ACA might survive the repeal of most of the law.


News quiz: Scam email plagues tax professionals—again

Even as the IRS reported on success in reducing tax return identity theft in the 2016 season, the Service also warned tax professionals about yet another email phishing scam. See how much you know about recent news with this short quiz.