Inquisitive Report 39/52

Week Ending October 26th, 2018

Content Covered: Ladder of Inference


The image that you see above is known as the “Ladder of Inference” it was put forward by an organizational psychologist named Chris Argyris. For the sake of conversation and understanding, I’d like to focus on the following steps: 1) observable ‘data’ and experiences, 2) selection of data, 3) adding meaning and 4) drawing conclusions.

The ladder of inference is used as a tool to understand how different perspectives emerge. Essentially, two people who have access to the same data (for example raised in the same household) can select different experiences that they then ascribe meaning to and use to draw conclusions/beliefs about their life.

Walking “up” the ladder we can begin understanding the underlying assumptions that we have made to reach a certain conclusion. Furthermore, walking “down” the ladder allows us to ask meaningful questions of others to help both parties understand the position or interest that is being discussed.

This tool is incredibly useful in all conversations, and most certainly in ‘difficult conversations.’ A conversation is labeled “difficult” becasue often we are trading (or arguing) with conclusions like: I am right, and you’re wrong or I can’t believe you disrespected me like that, and how could you not understand me? What we assume in these conversations is that we understand the entire process of inference that the other person has made to reach their particular conclusion/belief. And by not questioning our assumptions and engaging in an exploratory conversation we continue to foster hostility towards one another.

I wonder what would happen if next time we found ourselves in such a situation, instead of marching forward armed with assumptions, we engaged in asking “why”?



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