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Critical Thinking versus Problem Solving

Posted on October 24, 2019
Dark teal colored background with two talking heads facing each other one has question marks floating up and out of their brain, the other light bulbs

Many people lump critical thinking and problem-solving together into one basket, and while there are similarities, there are also distinct differences. Critical thinking utilizes analysis, reflection, evaluation, interpretation, and inference to synthesize information that is obtained through reading, observing, communicating, or experience to answer the following questions:

  • Is this information credible?
  • Is the purveyor of the information credible?
  • What is the issue?
  • How do I feel about this information and how will it inform my decisions?
  • Where does this information lead me?

Problem-solving uses many of the same skills, such as observing, analyzing, evaluating, and interpreting, but it takes the process a step further to identify obstacles and then to strategically map out a set of solutions to solve the problem.

So, how can you develop these skills to be a better critical thinker and a better problem solver? You cannot train yourself to be a critical thinker or a problem solver overnight; you should start slow. Work on one sub-skill at a time. Let’s look at each of these sub-skills:


Regardless of position, you can develop analytical skills by analyzing issues, programs, experiences, etc. to break them down into easier to digest chunks to gain a better or deeper understanding. To do this:

  • Be more observant
  • Ask questions such as who, what, where, when, how, and why
  • Learn as much as possible about the given topic
  • Map out the topic or issue to gain a visual understanding
  • Figure out the difference between fact and opinion


Learning to be reflective is something you can do with nearly every aspect of your professional and personal life. Start a journal and continually ask yourself questions and explore the answers honestly. This experience will open your mind to reflection, which is the process by which you look at your role in a given situation or experience. The best part of journaling – you can go back and re-read and see your progress over time. To begin the process:

  • Ask yourself why you did something or reacted in a certain way
  • Be open to look at yourself through an honest and critical lens
  • Explore your experience through writing
  • Ask trusted colleagues for feedback on your findings


We evaluate things all the time without realizing it – products, services, etc. Begin by being aware of this act. Similar to deepening your analysis skills, you can evaluate any issue, topic, program, procedure, policy, etc. through the means listed below to enhance your evaluation skills.

  • Compare different issues, topics, programs, etc. – how are they similar, different?
  • Look for trends
  • Look for conflicts or barriers
  • Don’t make assumptions, ask questions to gather information


The act of interpreting something is using a combination of analytical and evaluation skills, but it is a little more difficult to learn on your own. It is best to partner with someone to hone these skills – a trusted colleague or even a mentor, with whom you can put the following into practice.

  • Understand your own biases or opinions
  • Understand any cultural input, barriers, etc.
  • Look at the situation, experience, issue, topic, etc. through different lenses
  • Educate yourself about the situation, experience, issue, topic, etc.
  • Synthesize the information, data, etc. to develop a deeper understanding


One of the best ways to begin to develop strategic thinking skills is to do some long-range planning. You can start with your own professional goals, think about short-term goals and how those will help you get from point A to point B, and more importantly, how they lay the groundwork for longer-range goals. Keep practicing by employing these tactics.

  • Obtain the perspective of others & brainstorm
  • Educate yourself about the situation, experience, issue, topic, etc. 
  • Be forward-thinking in both the short-term and the long-term
  • Think about all parties involved and how decisions, etc. will impact them 
  • Be creative and innovative

We utilize many of these skills each day, even multiple times a day; however, often we do it without realizing it. The first step to enhancing your critical thinking and problem solving skills is to think about them, become aware of them, then you can actively practice to improve them. Critical thinking and problem-solving are two important “soft” or essential skills hiring managers are looking for. According to a Linkedin survey, 57% of business leaders say soft skills are now more important than hard skills. Abby Guthrie, a communications team leader at argues, “Every soft skill that you develop will be something you will eventually draw on in your career.” These skills are anything but soft, they are essential to your career.


Anne Converse Willkomm
Assistant Clinical Professor
Department Head of Graduate Studies
Goodwin College
Drexel University


Skills You Need



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