14 Essential Critical Thinker Characteristics And Traits

Updated 30 September 2022

Critical thinking is an important skill to develop in your personal and professional life. Being an analytical thinker by considering different perspectives can help you solve problems, resolve conflicts, identify biases and be empathetic. Learning how to think logically, critically and rationally can also help you develop the required skills and traits to improve your professional and personal life. In this article, we discuss 14 critical thinker characteristics and qualities and share how you can build them.

14 critical thinker characteristics and traits

Here are some important critical thinker characteristics that you can develop to improve your skills:

1. Curiosity

Nearly all learning processes begin with a question and the search for its answer. Being curious is necessary for critical thinkers, leaders and managers to obtain a deeper knowledge of issues, processes and individuals. Being interested in things around you, asking questions, understanding the ‘why' behind common ideas and admitting that you do not know everything is essential to be curious. It is important to note that critical thinkers are curious about a range of topics and issues rather than just their profession or specialisation. They appreciate different perspectives, cultures and beliefs and are willing to learn from them.

2. Introspection

The ability to think about one's actions, thoughts, awareness, decisions and being aware of your biases enables healthy introspection. Critical thinkers introspect regularly to become aware of their own decision-making and reactions, and more importantly, about their inner feelings and thoughts. Being aware of your emotional and mental state can help improve analytical, research, decision-making and problem-solving skills. Introspection helps an individual identify and acknowledge their own biases and learn from them, which is essential for critical thinkers to grow and develop emotionally.

3. Objectivity

Closely related to introspection is the ability to remove your biases when analysing information. Critical thinkers often focus on objectively verifiable information, scientific evaluations and measurable data to keep emotions and human biases from influencing the final outcome. While introspection is the first step that helps people identify their own biases, being objective involves dissociating with those beliefs, even if temporarily, during different situations. Critical thinkers can determine if the information presented to them is objective or influenced by personal interest or biases of some kind.

4. Analytical skills

Analytical thinking skills constitute the ability to think critically about an issue and examine the information from different perspectives. Reducing information or communication to its fundamental components and evaluating their validity is essential for critical thinkers to reach a meaningful conclusion. Analytical skills can help people examine any part of their personal or professional life, including reports, presentations, interactions or even a relationship. To determine the best course of action, critical thinkers use analytical thinking to decide which decision or solution can be the most effective.

Related: Analytical Skills: Definition, Tips And Examples

5. Compassion

Having compassion and being empathetic is a strong driver for critical thinkers to value other people in the world. This might seem contradictory to being objective, but caring for others and realising that all data and information is eventually driven by humans is vital to making effective decisions. Basing all your understanding or analysis on just data or numbers can deprive you of understanding the human element of interactions, processes and transactions. This makes characteristics like compassion, empathy and humility vital for critical thinkers to balance emotions with objectivity.

6. Creativity

A creative mind helps critical thinkers find innovative and unique solutions to regular or recurring problems. Being creative in your problem-solving approach and gathering information requires rejecting or questioning existing norms and ideas. Critical thinkers examine traditional processes and approaches to find new solutions, experiment and implement change. Creativity involves rejecting standardised ideas and solutions to think from new perspectives and approaches in decision-making. Questioning the status quo and entertaining radical and seemingly-impossible ideas is important for critical thinkers.

Related: Creating Thinking: Definition, Development And Advantages

7. Communication

Alongside the ability to think and process information clearly, critical thinkers require communicating their ideas and solutions to those around them. They may have to present their ideas verbally or through written formats to others, like senior leaders or personal acquaintances to persuade them. Being able to express your views clearly, articulating ideas through logical reasoning and convincing others of their merit requires strong communication skills. It also requires being an active listener and paying attention to the non-verbal feedback of the audience. This makes communication essential for critical thinkers to interact and mobilise others.

Related: Communication Skills: Definitions And Examples

8. Decision-making

Critical thinkers require strong decision-making and problem-solving skills to apply their learning and findings. After introspection, analysis and objective thinking, it is the ability to select the most effective solution or action that helps critical thinkers solve problems. This is particularly important when no clear answer is apparent or multiple solutions seem equally relevant. Many people experience mental-block and cannot make the right decision in such situations. Critical thinkers are decisive and understand the reasons and consequences of their decision. They usually take decisions considering time and efficiency, alongside effectiveness.

Related: What Is Decision Making? Definition, Types And Tips

9. Inference and deductions

Strong interference and deduction skills support making inferences and deductions. Drawing an inference is the ability to process information and derive a conclusion. Inference involves understanding things beyond the face value and collating all available information to make the most plausible conclusion. It might seem easy to base conclusions on objective data, but such decisions can be easily mistaken for assumptions. For example, if someone has a height of 140 cm, you may assume that they are short as compared to the average adult. But, that is an assumption as you do not know their age.

10. Continuous learning

The desire to learn and curiosity are closely interrelated. But, learning also includes the ability to let your mistakes, successes and experiences develop your knowledge and perspective. Critical thinkers are curious and reflective about their decisions to understand what led to their success or failure to learn from it. They also extend this approach of learning to that of others around them and usually have a desire to learn from the experience of others. They take lessons from all experiences, whether positive or negative and commit to learning, improving and growing.

11. Confidence

Critical thinkers have confidence in their abilities and skills to make the right decision. They are aware of their strengths and shortcomings. They trust their intellectual agency and reasoning skills to reach the right conclusion and evoke a sense of trust from others. Critical thinkers understand that they do not know everything and seek help when required. Additionally, they are modest and humble not to let their success overwhelm them. They are always willing to learn, open to new suggestions and not let confidence turn into arrogance or over-confidence.

12. Flexibility

Critical thinkers are not rigid in their approach and adopt flexibility and versatility. They can identify when a plan or strategy is not working as expected and quickly make changes. They usually do not follow the same process or depend on established approaches as they understand each situation or issue is unique. Versatility also refers to their ability to focus on many things simultaneously, learn about different fields and be genuinely curious about diverse issues. They admit to making wrongful decisions and are willing to change, suspension or update judgements and conclusions.

13. Observation and attention to detail

Observation and attention to detail are vital for critical thinkers to spot minute details in their work and identify errors. Being aware of common thinking errors, perceiving things and issues in their entirety and collecting data through multiple senses can help assess a situation objectively. Being alert when analysing situations and finding solutions can also help critical thinkers anticipate future scenarios and prepare for them. They are also quick to identify opportunities by being attentive. They also require strong observational skills when interacting with people, applying skills and gathering feedback from others.

Related: Attention To Detail: Definition, Examples And Tips

14. Commitment and determination

Critical thinkers commit to finding the truth, solution or answer, despite the obstacles and setbacks. Repeated failure may discourage them temporarily, but a commitment to resolve a problem is essential. They usually face problems and situations with no easy answers and may even face resistance from others. Critical thinkers have a strong sense of perseverance that allows them to commit and focus. Most philosophers, innovators and leaders in history have faced opposition or failure but had a steadfast commitment to achieving successes, which eventually helped them triumph.

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