Critical Thinking – Soft Skill Article # 4

“Critical thinking skills are essential in every industry at every career level, from entry-level associates to top executives. Good critical thinkers can work both independently and with others to solve problems. Issues such as process inefficiencies, management or finances can be improved by using critical thought. Because of this, employers value and seek out candidates who demonstrate strong critical thinking skills.” (https://www.indeed.com/career-advice/career-development/critical-thinking-skills)

Critical thinking: the ability to analyze information objectively, assess different perspectives, and reach a logical conclusion uninfluenced by emotion or personal bias.
Close your eyes and pretend that you are in a very dark place, sitting on a chair.  You can’t see anything and you can’t hear anything.  What’s the first thing you would do?  Whatever your answer is – you used critical thinking to formulate it.  “I would speak to see if someone answers.”  If they do or don’t, you have information you didn’t have before, and can then decide what to do next – critical thinking in action. “I would jump up and run around screaming” – not critical thinking, not productive, potentially dangerous!

There is a process in critical thinking. Following it allows you to arrive at a decision that is fact based, well-considered, and devoid of emotion or prejudice.

Step 1.  Identify the problem – the real problem.  Use the 5 times why process by asking “what is the problem?” and then “why is it the problem” until you get to the bare bones of the issue.

Step 2.  Gather data, opinions and arguments – be sure it comes from reliable sources and is as unprejudiced as possible.

Step 3.  Analyze and evaluate the data – are the sources reliable?

Step 4.  Identify assumptions – are your sources unbiased?< Step 5.  Make a decision/reach a conclusion – decide which – if any – conclusions are possible.  Weigh strengths and limitations of all possible options.  This is the most important step.  Make a decision – not making a decision is making a decision and it’s the wrong one. Your ability to critically think through a problem is nullified if you don’t make a decision and follow through with it. To start working on your critical thinking skills, begin with applying these simple strategies: Ask simple critical thinking questions

  • What do I already know?
  • How do I know that?
  • What am I trying to prove?
  • What are my motivations?

Oppose “common sense”  This is where you can lose a good resolution to a problem.

Be aware of your biases

  • Confirmation Bias: we always subconsciously assume we’re right.
  • Action Bias: we act too quickly before thinking something through.
  • Association Bias: why did the rain dance always work? Because they’d dance until the rain came.
  • Unconscious Bias: Unconscious biases are social stereotypes about an individual, group or institution. Everyone has unconscious biases about various groups, and they are often not aligned with one’s conscious values. Here’s a place to test your unconscious bias: https://implicit.harvard.edu/implicit/takeatest.html 

You can highlight your critical thinking skills on your resume by using these terms to describe your successes:

“Evaluated and analyzed”

“Identified a major design defect and instituted a work around”

“Interpreted the results”

“Developed a new strategy”

You can develop your critical thinking skills every day by applying the process to small problems that occur and there are some good books that can help.  I recommend Critical Thinking Skills: Developing Effective Analysis and Argument by Stella Cottrell.

I also found this great video from the Department of Labor that can help you understand critical thinking. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hPiI44XEKgs

Networking – Soft Skill #3

Until March of 2020, this was the definition of networking:  Business networking is the process of establishing a mutually beneficial relationship with other business people and potential clients or customers.  It still is – but how we go about it has changed drastically and will continue to evolve as we work our way through and past the current pandemic.

In my book; The Insider Guide to Your Dream Career: Mastering Your Job Search in the Digital Age, I discuss networking how-to’s and when-to’s.  It’s pretty simple; you start by getting out there, meeting people, and exchanging information about yourselves.  The next step is being of service in some way to the people you have met, because you know someone they need to meet or you know of someone who provides a service they need, or you know the Hiring Manager of the company they want to go to work for.  Please note that I said –“be of service to them”, because that is the important part.  If your networking goal is to create a list of those who can do stuff for you – you have the wrong attitude and the folks in your network will soon realize that you aren’t helping them, but using them – and drop you.

The hard part of networking prior to Covid-19 was “getting out there”.  Now it’s nearly impossible.  There’s one place where good networking is still possible – it’s just closer to home.

Off the top of your head, can you name someone who works with you who knows how to draft an advertisement for a magazine?  Who has contacts at the nearest college? Who has experience in recruiting and hiring?  If you don’t know this much about your co-workers – you should.

Networking among co-workers should be considered as important as networking in the community.  Have you thought about starting the next Zoom meeting with an exercise where everyone tells one odd talent they have?  That’s networking – because now you have a source you didn’t have before!

You never know when you’re going to need help doing your job.  Most of the time, your company will not be able to afford to hire outside experts.  Who you know can really be as important as what you know.  “It’s great to be able to say: ”I don’t know the answer to this, but I know who will”.

To start your in-house networking, create a list of contacts throughout your company and throughout your industry. Strive to reach beyond your immediate circle.  Reach out to those you don’t already know with a short message that contains your “elevator speech”, why you are interested in them and how you can help them.  If they respond positively, be sure to stay in touch with them – even if it’s just short emails that contain an article they might be interested in or a comment about a recent achievement of theirs.  You don’t know them well enough to pass on the current joke – so leave that to your closest friends!

Your goal is not to have many, many contacts, it’s to have contacts that you can be useful to and who can be of use to you.

Time Management – Soft Skill Article #1

Today, you are a manager choosing between two internal candidates for a position in your department.

Candidate #1 and Candidate #2 both have the same hard skills and have the same amount of service time with the company.  So how do you choose? Let’s look at the soft skills that each one has.

What are the most wanted soft skills?

  • Communication and Collaboration
  • Time Management
  • Networking
  • Empathy
  • Critical Thinking

Candidate #1 has these skills to one degree or another, except for Time Management. Candidate #2 has all the skills.  Who’s going to get the job? If you said Candidate #2, you are correct.

Why is Time Management so important – and how can you tell if your Time Management skills are lacking?

Time Management simply means you are on time – or a little bit early – all the time.  It means that your work is turned in on time, and if it is going to be late for any reason – your boss knows why and what you are doing to correct the problem.  If you work with a team, you know how important it is that each member completes their work on time because if they don’t the entire project is late and the entire team suffers.

Take a hard look at your work performance.

  • Are you usually 5-10 minutes late coming in to work?
  • Do you have a hard time getting started on a project, thereby finding yourself up against a hard deadline and working all night?
  • When the team checks in for updates, do you have any?
  • Do you often find yourself going to your supervisor and asking for help to finish a task?

If you’re answering yes, or sometimes; you have a habit that needs to be broken.  Being late is a habit and being on time is a habit, so you can change.

“All bad habits start slowly and gradually and before you know you have the habit, the habit has you.”

-Zig Ziglar

There are many well-known ways to break a habit.  Start with saying “I don’t come to work late”. Ask yourself what triggers your tardy button.  Do you oversleep because you don’t get enough rest?  Are you late leaving the house because you couldn’t find something to wear? (Although in these Covid-19 days that may not be a problem!)  What gets in the way of being on time?

Getting to work on time should be the easiest habit to form.  Getting your work done on time is going to take more work, but you can do it! Any assigned task has a deadline.  Estimate how long you need to get the task done, break the task into segments, assign a deadline for each segment and check yourself every day to see how you are doing. If you see that there is a barrier to finishing on time, immediately let your boss know. Again – what triggers your late button?  Not everyone is a self-starter, but when you have a task to accomplish, you should be able to complete it in a timely manner.  This requires being hard on yourself – no break until you finish that days’ segment, when you finish, you get to get up and walk around for 5 minutes.  Keep reminding yourself that the ultimate goal is to be known as someone who is always on time – with everything.

“When someone can get work done in a timely manner, they immediately become more valuable,” said Steven Page, vice president of digital strategy at data and digital marketing services agency Giant Partners.  “Also, your employer will want to give you important work to do because you can have an optimal turnaround time.”