[softskill ahead] The Ladder of Inference

… using this technique you might learn to get back to the facts and use your beliefs and experiences to positive effect, rather than allowing them to blind your field of judgment…

Today’s fast-moving world we are under pressure to act now instead of spend time reasoning things and thinking about the true facts.


Have you ever made “obvious” conclusions based on other experiences (your own or other people) and at the end discovered that you were completely wrong? This fact(s) not only can lead us to a wrong conclusions but it can also cause conflict with other people, who may have drawn different conclusions on the same point.

So you need to make sure your actions and decisions are founded on reality. Likewise, when you accept or challenge other people’s conclusions, you need to be confident that their reasoning – and yours – are firmly based on the true facts… So, how?!

The “Ladder of Inference” may help you to achieve that.

Also known as the “Process of Abstraction,” it helps you to understand steps that can lead you to jump into wrong conclusions and also it helps you to get back to the true (hard reality and facts). There is also a concept called the Four Truths: my truth, your truth, our truth, and THE truth. Too often, we confuse “my” truth with “THE” truth and the ladder model helps to explain why.

The Ladder of Inference was first mentioned by organizational psychologist Chris Argyris and used by Peter Senge in The Fifth Discipline: The Art and Practice of the Learning Organization (from where my post emerged)

The Ladder of Inference

The Ladder of Inference describes the thinking process which we go through – usually – without realizing it in order to get from a fact to a decision / action. The thinking stages can be seen as rungs on a ladder:


Starting at the bottom of the ladder we have:

  • Observe data and experiences
  • Select what is important
  • Interpret what they mean
  • Apply our existing assumptions (sometimes without considering them)
  • Create conclusions based on the interpreted facts and our assumptions
  • Develop beliefs based on these conclusions
  • Take actions that seems to be “right” because they are based on what we believe

This can create a vicious circle. Our beliefs have a big effect on how we select from reality and can take us to ignore the true facts entirely. And here we are unquestionably jumping to conclusions, missing facts and skipping steps in the reasoning mindset.

So, using this technique you might learn to get back to the facts and use your beliefs and experiences to positive way, rather than allowing them to blind your field of judgment. Following this step-by-step you will be able to get better results based on reality and then avoiding mistakes and worst: conflicts.

How to use it

It aims to help you to drawing better conclusions or challenge other people’s conclusions based on true facts and reality. It can be used to help you analyzing hard data such as a set of significant figures or doing test assertions, such as: the project will go live next month (colored :D). The step-by-step helps you to remain objective and – when working or challenging others – reach a shared conclusion without conflict.

Use the Ladder of Inference at any stage of your reflexion process. If you’re asking any of the following questions the mindstep might prove a useful support:

  • Is this the “right” conclusion?
  • Why am I making these assumptions?
  • Why do I think this is the “right” thing to do?
  • Is this really based on all the facts?
  • Why does he believe that?

Use the following steps to challenge your thinking using the Ladder of Inference:

  • Stop! It’s time to consider your reasoning;
  • Identify where on the ladder you are. Are you:
    • Selecting your data or reality?
    • Interpreting what it means?
    • Making or testing assumptions?
    • Forming or testing conclusions?
    • Deciding what to do and why?

From your current level analyze your argument working back down the ladder. This will help you to trace the facts and reality showing where you are actually working with.

Each stage ask yourself WHAT and WHY you are thinking. As you analyze each step, you may need to adjust your reasoning. For instance: you might need to change some assumption or extend the field of data you have selected.

  • Why have I chosen this course of action? Are there other actions I should have considered?
  • What belief lead to that action? Was it well-founded?
  • Why did I draw that conclusion? is the conclusion valid?
  • What am I assuming, and why? Are my assumptions valid?
  • What data have I chosen to use and why? Have I selected the right data?
  • What are the real facts that I should be using? Are there other facts I should consider?

When you are working through your reasoning, look out for rungs that you tend to jump.

Do you tend to make assumptions too easily? Do you tend to select only part of the data? Learn with your tendencies and you will have extra care in the future (improvement, improvement always). With a new reasoning, a wider field of data and more considered assumptions you can now work forward again up the ladder.

Explain your reasoning to someone else. It will helps you to check what your argument looks like.

An example

Ed Muzio describes Chris Argyris “Ladder of Inference” model and how you can use it to avoid making incorrect judgments.

That’s all folks! Cassio.




Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s