How to Develop Your Critical Thinking Skills at Work

You really want to get the job done right, but a lot of the time you’re just not sure what to do. Some days, it seems like you’re constantly running to your manager or colleagues for help.

Sound familiar?

It’s important to ask for help when you need it.  But the reality is, your manager and colleagues can’t always be there to put out the fire, nor should they be. Yes, your team should be there to help you (as you are there to help them) and your manager should always be able to assist in the event that a problem needs escalation. But having the ability to solve a problem yourself will make you better at your job and prepare you to take on new challenges with confidence.

In order to continue growing your career, you need to develop your critical thinking skills.

Critical thinking – or problem-solving skills – isn’t something everyone is born with. (I sure wasn’t!) But, as we’ve talked about previously, it can be developed just like any other skill. In this post, I’ll talk about some of the methods that worked for me.

Here are few tips for kick-starting your inner problem-solving machine for the next time you get stumped at work.

** My blog posts contain affiliate links, which means that I may earn a commission on purchases you make after clicking on those links. (At no extra cost to you!) Full disclosure here. **

Question the problem

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When confronted with a problem, you need to first make sure you fully understand it, and the circumstances surrounding it.  Ask yourself questions such as:

  • Why or how did this problem arise?
  • What information is missing?
  • How does this situation affect the customer, project, or business?
  • Who needs to be aware of this situation or issue? 
  • What are the possible outcomes to this situation?
  • What assumptions am I making about this situation?

This last question is perhaps the most important one of all. Assumptions about a situation or problem can make it worse, (or be the reason for the problem in the first place!) An assumption-fueled folly in the workplace is typically due to a lack of communication between clients, associates, or vendors.

Therefore, instead of rushing to act, always question your assumptions and clarify anything that isn’t 100% certain.

Depending on the type of business or problem, your other questions may vary. The idea is that the questions provoke you to look at the situation from different perspectives in order to understand what it is, how it occurred, and with any luck, how to resolve it on your own.

Take an active approach to solving the problem

Sometimes, despite your best efforts, you simply can’t determine what the best course of action is. But you might be able to identify one or two options that you think might work. Then you can bounce those ideas off your manager.

Basically, it’s the difference between saying:

“I have this problem, please tell me what to do.”


“I have this problem. I think if we xyz or abc, we can resolve it. What do you think?

This builds your problem-solving skills because you’re taking an active approach to solving the problem instead of letting someone else do all the thinking for you. One of your possible solutions might be correct, or at least on the right track. Even if your suggestion is off base, your manager can now follow your thought process and guide you to the solution.

Train your brain for Critical Thinking

There’s a variety of ways to sharpen your mind and expand your strategy skills. Sudoku, for example, is proven to help stimulate your brain to learn something new and push the envelope on your problem-solving skills.

Lateral Thinking Puzzles (Amazon Affiliate link) are fun riddles that force you to question your assumptions and ask yourself certain questions in order to figure out the answer. You can also throw in some visual puzzles to mix things up or download a brain teaser app for your phone.

Interestingly, some studies are now finding that any kind of brain training exercises will help improve your problem-solving capabilities. So find out which of these mental activities you enjoy and carve out 15-30 minutes a day to indulge in them!

Get your exercise

That’s right, it wouldn’t be a Fit Careerist article without a shout-out to the wonders of exercise! Last month, we talked about how your physical fitness can have a direct impact on your productivity and boost cognitive performance. Take walking breaks on your lunch break, or take your next team brainstorming session outside for a “walk and talk” around the block to get the oxygen and ideas flowing.

Science shows that even short breaks can increase mental performance, so even if you’re pressed for time, sprinkle in a few five-minute breaks throughout your workday by setting reminders on your calendar to get up and walk around. 

Outside of work, try to incorporate moderate to high-intensity exercise at least three times a week. (Don’t have much time to exercise? Read all about why HIIT is the perfect exercise for you!)

Learn from your mistakes

Sometimes you make the call in your job to solve an issue, and it turns out you were wrong. Guess what? No one is perfect. Your colleagues? They mess up sometimes. Your manager? They mess up too! (In fact, as a manager myself, I’d wager that their history of mess-ups is probably longer than yours!) So instead of beating yourself up for messing up or missing something, use the opportunity to review why you did what you did and how you can do better next time.

Above all else, don’t let your mistakes affect your confidence to solve problems. Are you second-guessing yourself because you’re really not sure? Or are you just terrified of being wrong?

Practice makes perfect

Just about any employer survey will list analytical thinking or problem solving as one of the most desired traits in an employee. And it only becomes more important when striking out on your own as an entrepreneur. It takes time and practice to build up your critical thinking skills, but its an endeavor well worth your effort!



Corrie Alexander is a former ISSA-certified personal trainer, home fitness advocate, and founder of The Fit Careerist. A proponent of personal growth and a self-proclaimed fitness app-junkie, Corrie shares tips and product reviews with the goal of helping others on their own fitness journey.

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