Ladder of Inference: Steps to Clarity and Informed Decision

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I walked through the office and heard someone saying: “I saw it with my own eyes. Didn’t you?” That triggered some thinking and reminded me of something we always discuss during our Lean Change Management workshops. Ladder of Inference: A topic to help people to take steps toward clarity and informed decision.

When two people observe something, it does not imply they will make the same conclusion. The conclusion or action we take based on something that happens differs per person and is based on assumptions, cultural background, and beliefs. This is known as the “ladder of inference.” 

The ladder of inference is a mental model developed by Chris Argyris that describes how people make sense of the world around them. The model is a metaphor for how we climb up a ladder, making inferences and assumptions as we go until we reach a conclusion and take action. 

Let’s grab our climbing gear and ascend the ladder of inference! A model to help people to take steps toward clarity and informed decisions.

Step 1: Observation

At the bottom of the ladder, there is observation. This is where we encounter facts or experiences. It’s essential to approach observations openly, avoiding preconceived notions or biases. A careful observation of the situation provides the foundation for our next steps.

Step 2: Selecting Data

After observing, we select specific data to focus on from the vast array of available information. Our personal beliefs, experiences, and cultural background often influences our selection. Awareness of these biases is crucial, and striving for objectivity is crucial. When we are aware of our tendencies, we can avoid cherry-picking data to reinforce our existing beliefs.

Step 3: Adding Meaning

Once we’ve selected our data, we add meaning to it. Based on our values, beliefs, and experiences, we interpret information. Our biases can significantly impact our conclusions’ accuracy at this point in the process. It’s essential to critically analyze the meaning we assign to the data, considering alternative perspectives and challenging our assumptions.

Step 4: Making Assumptions

As we move up the ladder, we make assumptions based on our assigned meanings. The assumptions are often unstated since our minds naturally fill in the gaps. These assumptions can, however, be flawed, incomplete, or based on limited information. Recognizing and questioning our assumptions is important so they don’t become the foundation for bad decisions.

Step 5: Drawing Conclusions

We draw conclusions based on our assumptions. In our minds, these conclusions are often taken as facts, influencing our subsequent actions. Remember, these are just interpretations based on the ladder’s previous steps. Our decisions can be more accurate and informed if we engage in open dialogue and seek other perspectives.

Step 6: Taking Action

The top rung of the ladder represents our actions. Based on our conclusions, we respond to a situation. It’s important to recognize that our actions are based on a series of mental steps that may be prone to error. We can refine our actions and make better choices by reflecting on our thinking processes.

The ladder of inference can help us understand how we make decisions and how our thinking can lead to errors. We can make better decisions by becoming aware of the different rungs of the ladder and understanding our thinking.

Here are some tips for using the ladder of inference to make better decisions:

  • Be aware of your values, beliefs, and assumptions. When selecting, interpreting, and inferring data, it is important to be mindful of these factors.
  • Challenge your assumptions. Think of other possible explanations for the data you have chosen and interpreted.
  • Be open to new information. Be open to changing your mind when learning new information contradicts your assumptions.
  • Be willing to collaborate with others. Discuss your thinking with others and get their feedback. By doing so, you can better understand the data through the eyes of different perspectives.

Using the ladder of inference, you can become more aware of your thinking, create clarity, and, as a result, make better decisions. This can lead to improved communication, increased productivity, and stronger relationships. Steps to Clarity and Informed Decision.

Next time you hear someone saying: “I saw it with my own eyes. Didn’t you?” You can answer: “Yes, and I am curious to compare our conclusions.”


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