We live in a world of self-generating beliefs which remain largely untested. We adopt those beliefs because they are based on conclusions, which are inferred from what we observe, plus our past experience. Our ability to achieve the results we truly desire is eroded by our feelings that:

  • Our beliefs are the truth
  • The truth is obvious
  • Our beliefs are based on real data
  • The ate we select are the real data

Chris Argyris coined the phrase “ladder of inference” -a common mental pathway of increasing abstraction, often leading to misguided beliefs.

  • Take Action based on my beliefs
  • Adopt beliefs about the world
  • Draw Conclusions¬†
  • Make assumptions based on the meanings i added
  • Add meanings (cultural & Personal)¬†
  • Select “Data” from what i observe
  • Observable “Data” & experiences (as video might capture it )

Using the Ladder of Inference:

You can’t live your life without adding meaning or drawing conclusions. It would be inefficient and tedious. But you can improve your communication through reflection, and by using the ladder of inference in three ways;

  • Becoming more aware of your own thinking and reasoning (reflection).
  • Making your thinking and reasoning more visible to others (advocacy).
  • Inquiring into others’ thinking and reasoning (inquiry).

Recipe to start the practice of inquiry

  1. Identify the conclusions someone is making
  2. Ask for the data that lead to the conclusion
  3. Inquire into the reasoning that connects data and conclusion
  4. Infer a possible belief or assumption
  5. State your inference and test it with the person