Ladder of Inference

The ladder of Inference was created by Chris Argyris, professor emeritus at Harvard, to help leaders understand how all of our actions are based on thoughts filtered through intentions, assumptions, mindsets and beliefs.

We climb the ladder without knowing it:

  • We notice the facts that we think are important and ignore the rest
  • We filter that data through our own mindsets and beliefs, we examine the world from our own perspective
  • Our conclusions feel so obvious to us that we see no need to retrace the steps we took from the data we selected to the conclusions we reached.

This explains why almost everyone who meets a horse pets it between the eyes =- we assume that horses like petting, our mindset says that if we are being friendly the horse should understand.  When the horse reacts by pushing up we conclude that the horse is not friendly and try to change his behaviour through discipline instead of realizing the true source..

The Ladder of Inference is at the heart of many misunderstandings

  • People often reach different conclusions.  When they view their conclusions as obvious they treat them as facts rather than interpretations to be assessed
  • When people disagree, they often hurl conclusions at each other without ever exploring mindsets, assumptions or even the original data
  • Uncovering the differences in conclusions is the least stressful and most effectively way of resolving differences before they become conflicts

Three ways you can change to improve the way you communicate
and avoid you or others climbing the ladder of inference: (The Fifth Discipline

  1. You can become more aware of your own thinking and reasoning reflection)
  2. You can make sure that others understand your thinking and reasoning (advocacy);
  3. You can ask questions about what others are thinking, to test your assumptions (inquiry).

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