How many times have you responded too quickly to a message or made a hasty business decision, only to find that you needed to correct yourself later because you didn't think it all the way through? It happens to even the best workers, but having to backtrack and fix these kinds of avoidable mistakes costs you more than your pride — it's a waste of valuable time.
"Everyone is incredibly busy, and often we believe that we don't have the time to really think through an issue," said Jen Lawrence, co-author of "Engage the Fox: A Business Fable About Thinking Critically and Motivating Your Team" (Greenleaf Book Group Press, 2014). "Using a structured thinking process will actually save employees time in the long run because they avoid making mistakes such as jumping to the wrong conclusion or making a decision that others reject down the road."
Critical thinking — which business consultant and author Steve Siebold defines as the ability to remove all emotion from an issue and observe the facts objectively to make a logical decision — is clearly advantageous for business. Lawrence noted that critical thinking helps employees gather all of the information required to analyze a situation, generate optimal solutions to a problem and get feedback from all the people involved in the situation. All of these steps, she said, contribute to better business solutions overall.
But why is it so difficult to encourage critical thinking in the workplace? Part of it is that people assume everyone in their workplace is busy and has no time, but it's also because critical thought isn't a priority in U.S. society as a whole. [The 10 Job Skills Employers Want]
"Schools are no longer routinely teaching basic thinking processes, such as rhetoric or the scientific method," Lawrence told Business News Daily. "Many companies find that they need to provide training in critical thinking."
"It's just not something we're really focused on," added Siebold, author of "177 Mental Toughness Secrets of The World Class" (London House Press, 2010). "We're emotional creatures by default. We're trained to think with emotions instead of using statistics, logic, reason, etc. Society fosters emotion-based thinking and decision making."
Critical thinkers are open-minded, confident, decisive, not reliant on others' approval and able to see past their emotions when making choices, Siebold said. To encourage your team to think critically, he advised asking employees how they make most of their decisions. Is it based on concrete proof, rather than a gut feeling? Can the decision be justified beyond the person's intuition, or be supported by anything that's not emotionally related? If a person can answer "yes" to these questions, he or she is engaging in a critical thought process.
Anyone is capable of learning and improving critical-thinking skills, but teaching your employees how to do this isn't always an easy task, especially if, as a leader, you're prone to quick, thoughtless decisions. The best way to encourage critical thinking is to lead by example, Lawrence said.
"If a CEO makes knee-jerk reactions that do not take all stakeholders into account, it will be hard to cultivate a culture of critical thinking," Lawrence said. "Good thinking practices should be modeled by the senior management team."