Have you climbed the ladder of inference lately? The Ladder of Inference describes the thinking process that we go through, usually without realizing it, to get from a fact to a decision or action. There are seven runs to the ladder of inference. First proposed by Chris Argyris in the 1970s, the ladder of inference can be a tool for promoting self reflection and empowerment.
As you climb your ladder it is important to know your powerful pause question.
Let’s start by considering ladder of inference examples where things have not gone well. Have you found yourself perplexed at the way someone else has interpreted something you said or did, and how he/she put a meaning on it that you never intended? During the last week did a conversation you thought was going well run off the rails because of misunderstanding? Or because of a tight timeline did you find yourself making assumptions about others and their processes? Well, you’ve been climbing the ladder of inference too fast.
The ladder of inference has seven rungs that we sometimes climb at a rapid speed. When we jump to conclusions, we’ve usually run up the rungs of the ladder and miss a few key rungs. When we climb too quickly we can land in the traps of assumptions, judgment, confusion and frustration.
However, if we know how to pause during the climb, we can avoid the critical traps and make great decisions and take strategic action steps. There are two steps to avoid the ladder traps:
1) Be clear about which of your strengths slows you down and encourages you to pause.
2) Have a powerful question that you can ask during the pause to redirect yourself.
When I rush up the ladder, I draw on my strength that focuses on recognizing purpose. And, my powerful question is “What is most important right now? ”
If you rush up the ladder to get to a decision, perhaps your strength of analysis will give you metrics. And your powerful question might be “What is the the most critical data point for making this decision?”
Or, when you rush up the ladder your emotional radar might be picking up all kinds of data. Use your strength of empathy to analyze the emotions and get curious about the other person’s emotions. “I’m sensing we are getting frustrated with our pace. Let’s pause a minute and figure out what’s frustrating us both. ”
If you find yourself leaping to conclusions about someone you don’t really like to spend time with, perhaps your strength of strategic will be your guide. Your powerful pause question might be “what’s do I need to do to ensure this conversation ends well and I don’t get irritated with him/her?”
I encourage all my clients to have a powerful pause question when they feel themselves rushing up the ladder. What is your pause question?