Critical Thinking Skills and the Workplace: Is Corporate Culture a Barrier?

While numerous research studies show that the ability to think critically is a vital skill required in many job roles across all industries, a recent article in Human Resources Online outlines some examples of critical thinking being stifled or prevented due to organizational culture and climate.

What is critical thinking?

There are a number of definitions of what constitutes critical thinking but there is a general consensus that the key elements are:

  • Logical reasoning and evaluation of arguments to solve problems and draw logical conclusions

  • The ability to question and recognize facts from assumptions and hunches

  • Creative thinking

Pearson TalentLens defines critical thinking as the ability to look at a situation and clearly understand it from multiple perspectives whilst separating facts from opinions and assumptions.

The Human Resources Online article identifies proficiency in critical thinking, complex problem solving, innovation, collaborating, and effective communication, as entry-level job requirements. These findings are reinforced in a 2016 World Economic Forum report, The Future of Jobs, that looks at employment, skills, and workforce strategy for the future.

Despite the wide-spread recognition of the importance critical thinking and decision making play in the workplace, there are many examples of those skills being stifled. Questioning the policies or procedures set forth by those in upper management is frowned upon, which goes against the core principles of critical thinking, which has questioning at its heart.

In some organizations, anyone questioning or challenging the assumptions of management or offering something that goes against the status quo is seen as “not on board” or a “trouble maker”. There are also numerous examples of organizations that have suffered as a result of decisions that were made without the benefit of critical thinking.

Have you ever heard any of these comments?

  • “If you’re not on board then get off the bus.”
  • “Anyone who disagrees with ‘X’ does not last long here.”
  • “We tried that before and it did not work.”
  • “I always agree with what my boss says.”

All of these indicate a work culture where critical thinking is stifled.

What can be done to overcome this?

Before any change can take place, there needs to be realization — usually from upper management — that critical thinking is vital, yet not being encouraged. Once this happens there are a number of practical interventions that support the shift to thinking more critically:

1. Assess or measure the current levels of critical thinking in the workplace.

Pearson TalentLens publishes the globally renowned Watson-Glaser Critical Thinking Appraisal.

The online test is linked to a profile, interview, and development report, which can be a useful tool in management development and coaching interventions. The test measures an individual’s levels of ability in three key areas:

  • Recognition of assumptions
  • Evaluation of arguments
  • Ability to draw logical conclusions

Ready to test your own critical thinking ability? Email talentlens@pearson.com, mention this blog, and ask to take the Watson Glaser test.

2. Pearson also offers a number of highly interactive and practical training interventions aimed at developing the skills and behaviors involved in critical thinking. Interventions include the popular Critical Thinking Bootcamp and Critical Thinking University.