Asking questions rather than making assumptions: the ladder of inference


I recently read in a book about an interesting tool called “the ladder of inference”. This ladder illustrates our tendency to adopt inaccurate beliefs based on selective observations, false assumptions, and misguided conclusions. It is an interesting tool for understanding how misunderstandings between people occur.

It looks like this:

  • We observe “data” and experiences, as a videotape recorder might capture it
  • We select “data” from what we observe
  • We then add meaning (both cultural and personal) to what we observe
  • We then make assumptions based on the meaning we added
  • We draw conclusions
  • We adopt beliefs about the world
  • We take actions based on our beliefs

The question is now: how can we make sure that we stay objective while observing and assessing and acting? To make sure we achieve the results we want.

A quick answer to this question is: grounding our assessments.
And by that I mean gathering as many objective facts as you can.
The more objective facts you can find, the higher the chance that your emotions are not the driver of your assumptions, beliefs and actions.
And the more likely you will achieve the results you want…

* Source: R. Ross “The ladder of inference” in P. Senge, A. Kleiner, et al., The Fifth Discipline Fieldbook