Critical Thinking Skills: 5 Strategies to Make You a More Successful Decision Maker

When faced with a decision, we often talk of our instinct, intuition or even “gut feeling” on a subject, and while our initial instincts on a topic are often valuable, they are not the only thing we should consider.

By taking the time to arm ourselves with solid analytical data and a well-rounded view of the subject at hand, we can gain an advantage in the business world. With thoroughly researched information, we are both better informed and better prepared to discuss and debate. Even if emotion still plays a part -- and studies over the past three decades say it will -- we can reap the benefits of having the critical thinking skills to properly direct our energies.

Concentrate on these five key areas to make sure you’re thinking critically and employing the best strategies to succeed.

Collect good data

Begin with the best information. There is often a great deal of excellent material available to assist in decision-making, but few take the time to sort through and understand it at its core. Start by doing your homework. Be sure you know your source, and ask the important questions.

Look at the big picture

Once you dive deep on your information and come to a conclusion or a decision that needs to be made, don’t forget to also take a step back. There is a lot to be learned from the full landscape, or “10,000-foot” view. Ask yourself what the larger impacts will be of the decision that needs to be made. Consider any implications you may have to deal with, and make a plan to deal with those, too.

Consider the current state

Before you start making or suggesting changes to the situation, be sure you understand and articulate the current state. Highlight the issue at hand, the contributing factors and the implications if nothing is done. When you can speak clearly about the problem, it is much easier to see the path to a solution, not only for you, but for those around you.

Consider the future

Once you have a well-defined picture of the current state, you can research and make predictions about what will happen next, hopefully for the short and the long term. Decisions are made based on the idea that we know how they will play out; critical thinking with all of the facts at hand will help you (and your case) stand out.

Prepare for discussion

Now that you have your own clear view of the situation, realize that you are, in fact, just beginning. Don’t forget that, at its core, decision-making is an emotional process. You have armed yourself with information, but you may need to convince others, with their own motivations and perspectives at stake. It can sometimes come as a bit of a shock when facts and figures meet resistance. Always come prepared to discuss the facts, but even more importantly, come prepared to listen. Others will often come to the same conclusion if your critical thinking leads to something they want, too.

Critical thinking isn’t about abolishing our emotion or instinct -- it's about bringing all the tools to the table. Whether you’re just starting out in business or a top CEO, the same applies: Your intuition can be seen as our feeling of what will happen, based on personal history, knowledge and our ability to predict. Arming ourselves with as much information, in that sense, can only sharpen our intuition.

By Joel Garfinkle