Critical Thinking in HR 

29 March 2022

Although we may not have been aware of it, critical thinking has always played an important role in business. Have you ever been in a meeting with senior management making a business case for a HR policy only to find your sound case was derailed? Someone in the room may relate it to something that didn’t work in the past, causing your valid arguments to be lost? If this sounds familiar, that person may have applied their critical thinking skills to the situation to your detriment. 


Opportunities to share ideas with senior management or outside stakeholders may not present themselves regularly. To make the most of them it is important people professionals can identify and employ critical thinking skills. 


It is also an area employers surveyed by the World Economic Forum identified as essential to the future of work across many industries. Critical thinking and analysis topped a list of ten skills employers believed would be required in 2025. 

Before we delve into why critical thinking matters for people professionals and how you can develop your critical thinking skills, it is important to define the term. Critical thinking is a process of conceptualising, analysing and evaluating information gathered from observation, experience or communication to guide belief or action. For people professionals there are three key areas relating to the skill:

  1. Critiquing the ideas and arguments of others
  2. Constructing our own ideas and arguments
  3. Identifying when others are using critical thinking 

Critical thinking helps people professionals make decisions in a more reflective way. These decisions are less likely to be biased, crucial for HR leaders.

HR and People management involves solving a multitude of problems for your business. Critical thinking is important in people management because it helps us avoid making decisions based on:

  • Incorrect assumptions
  • Unreliable sources
  • Unconscious biases 

Having strong critical thinking skills enables HR professionals at all levels to collect and process information in a structured way aiding the problem solving process. 

Critical thinking also helps people managers engage in strategic conversations with internal business partners from professions where critical thinking is a central part of their role like legal professionals, engineers or C Suite management. HR teams are often asked to facilitate meetings around complex or difficult strategic issues amongst other parts of the business. With critical thinking knowledge you are likely to be in a better position to do this but also to facilitate stakeholder thoughts in a more structured way.

Fortunately, critical thinking skills are not inherent, it is something that can be learnt or improved upon. If you feel your skills need some improvement we have found 6 ways HR professionals can improve critical thinking skills:


1. Question your own thinking

It is natural for all human beings to develop a pattern of thinking that we use to navigate life and work. As a HR leader it is easy to believe something must be correct because it has ‘always been done that way’. Critical thinking helps us to break out of those patterns of passive thinking where little changes. Instead, it asks us to question how we think and look for problems that could be solved to make a situation or process better. 


2. Discern relevant data

The digital age means we are often overwhelmed by data. It is important that people managers remember that not all data is useful or relevant. As critical thinking skills improve it should become easier for you to divide information into what to ignore and what to pay attention to.


3. Explore new ideas

It can sometimes be intimidating or threatening when you are faced with new ideas, especially in such a regulated area. In order to grow as a professional, it is important to explore new ideas. Speak to colleagues or people in other departments for input on how things could be done. Take a professional development course in an area of interest or read up on new developments in the industry that your business might be able to employ.

4. Encourage alternative views

Often businesses get stuck in a cycle of short-term thinking. Getting things done to reach immediate goals at the expense of the bigger picture. Developing an organisational culture that is open to alternative views is an important part of facilitating critical thinking. Don’t just wait for colleagues to challenge the status quo, actively encourage it through:

  • Debates
  • Informal conversations
  • Brainstorms

When provided with the space to do so, you and your colleagues may come up with many alternative ideas that challenge existing processes and procedures across the organization.


5. Take time to decide

A quick decision is the enemy of critical thinking. If you regularly make decisions on the fly, take time to reflect on whether with the benefit of hindsight they were always the right one. As a people manager it is important to take time to think about important decisions. Particularly those that are going to impact the entire organisation.

If you love a proposal, take some time to think about potential negative implications. Try to look at it from a number of different viewpoints, put yourself in the shoes of someone of a different:

  • Gender
  • Race
  • Religion
  • Level in the organisation

How will your decision impact each of them? If it is a very significant change, it might be worth interviewing a spectrum of people for their opinion before you make a final decision. Take a similar approach to decisions you don’t like, just because you don’t like an idea does not mean it is not the right thing for the wider team or organization as a whole. 

6. Avoid assumptions

The old adage making an assumption makes an ass out of you and me is most certainly true when it comes to critical thinking. Before you unintentionally jump to a conclusion ask yourself:

a.            What are the facts?

b.            Is there a relationship between cause and effect?

c.            Is the language used to describe the issue is ambiguous or clear?

          These questions will help you avoid falling back on something you believe to be true without any proof. 

Prefer to learn by watching or listening? The experts at TED have created some useful talks on the subject of critical thinking:

1. 5 tips to improve your critical thinking

Samantha Agoos takes us through a five step process we can apply to decision making in any area of life.

2. Encourage critical thinking with these 3 questions

Eric Wilberding shared the Socratic Method of critical thinking developed by Socrates one of the founding fathers of philosophical thought.

3. How can you change someone's mind

Hugo Mercier demonstrates how critical thinking skills can be used to change the minds of others. Particularly useful for people managers who have to influence others within the business. 


The most important thing to remember when it comes to using critical thinking effectively is there is no one right answer. You can use this skill to create a number of options, all of which may work well. 

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