What is the Critical Incident Technique?

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  • Written By: Marlene Garcia
  • Edited By: Daniel Lindley
  • Last Modified Date: 10 November 2019
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Critical incident technique is a method of observing human nature to measure how effective or ineffective people are when faced with a situation. It predicts how employees will solve problems in the workplace and identifies behavior that represents positive reactions and poor reactions. Human resource managers might use critical incident technique application to test a job candidate’s behavior in order to predict if the person will be a beneficial employee. It creates standards for certain professions.

Questionnaires are sometimes used to gather data that applies to critical incident techniques. A report compiled by an employee, manager, or coworkers can examine what happened in a particular incident, how it was handled, and whether the actions taken by the employee were effective or ineffective. The report might also analyze what actions could have improved the outcome of the event.

During the analysis of critical incident technique, similar events may be divided into categories to help employees recognize good and bad reactions. Interactions with customers, coworkers, or company suppliers can be studied to learn ways to improve productivity. The analysis usually includes what happened before, during, and after the incident, and how it pertains to job performance. This helps supervisors assign the best employees to certain duties.


Critical incident technique was designed by American psychologist John Flanagan during World War II to define behaviors that lead to the successful completion of a job. He developed testing that could determine positive attributes for pilots flying in the war. The process was later adapted to include education, human resources, health industries, and customer service.

During the study of critical incident technique in education, Flanagan followed students for 11 years. He analyzed what the students preferred to do, and measured the level of career counseling available to them. The research showed that some students did not perform well even when they tested high in productive behaviors. This study might be used by educators to define effective and ineffective methods to improve educational success.

These psychological profiles aim to solve problems in the workplace in certain situations that might be deemed critical to the success of a business. A prospective employee might be questioned during the interview process on how he or she would handle a scenario, giving the interviewer a glimpse of the candidate’s positive or negative attributes. The results of these tests might also point to specific duties where employees can excel.


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