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8 Ways to Improve Quick Thinking Skills for the Public Sector

Have you ever found yourself in a sticky situation where you were caught off guard during a meeting, work event, or even in your personal life?

Most of us have. 

For many professionals, the thought of having to remain composed under pressure and react quickly is a daunting prospect.

But, being able to use quick thinking to respond to quick-fire questions can help you build credibility in the workplace and beyond. 

In this post, we cover what quick thinking is, why it's a valuable skill to have in the workplace and how to improve your quick thinking skills in the public sector.

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What is Quick Thinking? 

Quick thinking is about how we deal with situations where we know what we want to say, or what we need to say, but can’t find the right words to put together to make an impact.

It's an emerging communication skill that more and more professionals are discovering to help them get ahead in their careers and handle difficult situations on the spot.

What Does a Quick Thinker Look Like?

Although it's called 'quick thinking', being a fast thinker isn't the only important part. Quick thinkers can identify the most important parts which helps them make good decisions quickly and respond. 

Knowing how to cut through the noise and identify the elements you need to focus on is a key part of quick thinking - some call this 'deduction skills'. 

Quick thinkers will often:

  • Respond to questions quickly
  • Speak quickly
  • Learn fast and then be able to explain what they've learnt to others
  • Have a new idea or process for doing something better
  • Be able to think outside the box
  • Be able to take in a greater amount of information at one time

Quick Thinking Examples in the Workplace

Whether you're in a meeting with senior leaders and need to demonstrate a new idea on the spot, or you're under pressure from a key stakeholder to share key insights, being able to think quickly might just save the day. 

Quick thinking can be used in a variety of situations in the public sector, especially if you're a leader and you need to answer to employees, senior members and stakeholders. 

Why is Quick Thinking so Hard? 

When we are relaxed (e.g. at home), most of us find thinking on the spot easy. But in situations where we feel under pressure or on the back foot, this becomes more difficult.

At work, feeling under pressure tends to hold people back. You may end up saying ‘yes’ to things when ‘no’ or ‘maybe’ would probably have made more sense.

Lacking quick thinking skills can also lead to not explaining things properly – particularly for managers. This is often because they feel backed into a corner, or under pressure in a meeting.

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Why is Quick Thinking a Valuable Skill to Have in the Workplace?

Some people naturally like to think about things for longer periods of time. This isn't a bad thing, but when people expect you to react fast, you need to be able to do so.

Being a quick thinker is valuable in the workplace for several reasons, including:

  • Stopping you from relying on others to always have the answer
  • Helping you avoid decision-making paralysis
  • Helping you build your problem-solving skills
  • Developing your efficiency for day-to-day tasks
  • Making you seem more confident around others and in groups

Is Quick Thinking a Trainable Skill or a Natural Ability?

Quick thinking is like a muscle. The more we practice the tools and techniques, the easier it becomes.

Some people are quick thinkers naturally, and others have to develop it. It's also worth noting that some of us are naturally more introverted, but have great ideas and need to find ways of communicating them in environments where there are louder and more assertive people.

It's important to remember that being a quick thinker doesn't mean you're impulsive and allow your emotions to take over your words. It's about putting your emotions aside and using your brain to solve the issues at hand. 

8 Ways to Improve Quick Thinking Skills for the Public Sector

1. Make small decisions fast

No one expects you to make big decisions with the click of a finger, but in order to think faster and respond with greater efficiency, try to make minor decisions quicker.

Take what you eat for lunch for example. This is an important decision but deciding to eat a sandwich, pasta or a salad will not have a large impact on your week or future decisions. This means, even if the decision you choose isn't the best, the consequences are small. 

Want to be more confident when speaking in public or in team meetings? Here are 5 ways you can do it

2. Stop trying to answer everything at once 

You might be a master multitasker, but our brains are actually most effective when focusing on one thing at a time. Our brain is always thinking or trying to manage multiple tasks, so why not make it easier for yourself by prioritising one task at a time until it is complete? This will help you respond with more accuracy and focus, giving those you are advising or talking to a clearer view of your opinion or decision.

If you're trying to make quick decisions on the spot, try to work through the decision-making process as quickly as possible. Try to cut through the details and focus on the key aspects that are important in your final decision.

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3. Know your areas of competence or expertise

You're not always going to know the answer to every question that comes your way. "I don't know" is an acceptable answer if you've been asked something that doesn't fall into your knowledge. But, by ensuring your confidence in the areas you focus on and spend the most time on, you'll be better at answering questions quickly and effectively. 

Want to learn how to effectively think on your feet under pressure? Read our blog post to find out

4. Maintain greater awareness

When we become more aware of the events around us, we're teaching our brain to be more perceptive. When you are more perceptive, you'll be able to assess upcoming events before they happen and come up with a variety of solutions. This is a highly effective and useful skill to master, especially as a manager or leader of multiple employees or teams. 

Having greater awareness will allow you to give more valuable feedback in conversations or provide assistance in a situation. This can help take the pressure off because you're spending less time pondering decisions and more time being aware and trusting your instincts. 

5. Believe you can solve the problem there and then

Often we get stuck in a situation and say we need more time to focus and figure out the answer. More times than not, this isn't the case. We tend to tell ourselves that the problem requires more time and therefore, we stop thinking and avoid coming up with solutions. 

Instead, try to break down the problem into small parts. You can even do this out loud - not everything has to be done in your head! You may think this makes you sound silly, but doing it this way can even spark other ideas and get other people involved in your thought process. 

6. Understand what slows your thinking down

Now everything is digital, there are even more things that can distract us. If you're constantly consuming, listening and taking in other information, your own thoughts are going to struggle to get through. 

Once you learn what slows down your thinking, you can put boundaries in place to minimise distractions and optimise your thought process. By minimising digital distractions, the need for excessive multitasking and information consumption, you can create mental space that allows for faster processing and clear thinking.

7. Understand important information and dismiss the filler

It's easy to feel overwhelmed if you're faced with an abundance of information. But, most of the information you come across may not help you think quickly. Try to identify the most important parts and let go of what's not. 

Allowing filler information to consume your brain will only slow down your ability to think and make decisions quickly. 

8. Attend a Thinking on the Spot Masterclass

Whether you're under pressure to make a quick decision or you're faced with a difficult situation you need to respond to, knowing how to act quickly and embed techniques to process information will help you respond more effectively. 

Our half-day Masterclass is led by an expert coach and Author of Improve Your Memory and The Memory Workbook (Hodder Education), Mark Channon. Channon will dive into tricks and techniques to help you overcome your analysis paralysis and teach you how to implement these techniques in real-life situations. 

Book Your Space on our Masterclass to Think Quickly in Any Situation

Gain confidence, overcome barriers to thinking quickly and learn how to act decisively under pressure with our Masterclass: Thinking on the Spot. Learn more and secure your place here

Chloe Martin
Content Editor

2+ years in SEO and content marketing. Striving to help public sector professionals develop their skills and learn something new through high-quality content.