Transition Management Consulting, Inc.

Ladder of Inference

by Jackie Eder-Van Hook | Jun 01, 2009
Understanding the Ladder of Inference increases our awareness of our patterns of thinking, reasoning, decision-making, and how we communicate with others.

Improving Communications

Understanding the Ladder of Inference increases our awareness of our patterns of thinking, reasoning, decision-making and communications with others.

Understanding the Ladder of Inference increases our awareness of our patterns of thinking, reasoning, decision-making, and communicate with others.

  • Reflection - Become more aware of our thinking and reasoning
  • Advocate - Make your thinking and reasoning explict
  • Inquiry - Investigate what others think and how they reason

Scenario Example 

I am making a presentation to an executive team. Everyone is engaged except Larry (Observable Data), who seems bored out of his mind, he turns dark, morose eyes away from me and puts his hands to his mouth, he doesn't ask any questions until I am almost done, when he breaks in, I think we should ask for a full report. (Select Data From My Observations) In this culture, that typically means, let's move on.  (Add Cultural and Personal Meaning) Everyone starts to shuffle papers and put their notes away. Larry obviously thinks that I am incompetent (Make Assumption Based on Meanings I Add), which is a shame, because these ideas are exactly what the department needs. Clearly Larry is a power hungry jerk. (Draw Conclusions) By the time, I have returned to my seat, I have made a decision: I am not going to include anything in my report that Larry can use. (Adopt Beliefs) He wouldn't read it or, worse still, he'd just use it against me. It's too bad I have an enemy who's so prominent in the company. (Take Actions)

Scenario Debrief

It all happened so quickly. It seems so reasonable. The more I believe that Larry is an evil guy, the more I reinforce that belief. I could have taken Larry aside and checked out my assumptions. I walked up the ladder. 

Source: Senge, P. The Fifth Discipline: The Art and Practice of the Learning Organization. Based on the work of Chris Argyris.

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