Thinking About Your Thinking: Understanding the Ladder of Inference [Webinar Recording]

Have you ever thought about why you think the way you do?

In an ever-changing world we are under constant pressure to make decisions and act quickly. To expedite our thinking process, we use our beliefs, assumptions, and experiences to process new information. When we do this, we’re running information up our Ladder of Inference and are at risk of jumping to conclusions.

To help you better understand the Ladder of Inference and how it impacts your leadership style, we create this 10-minute webinar.

Click here to access the presentation slides.

Understanding the Ladder of Inference

Have you ever been in a situation where you walked away wondering if your team thought your work was important?

This kind of thinking happens more than any of us would care to admit. Our reality, assumptions, conclusions, and beliefs shape the way we process information and make decisions, and in doing so we can create conflict and damage the level of trust within the team from misunderstandings. Jumping to conclusions and making assumptions is common, but it is also unproductive and gets in the way of progress and collaboration. Unfortunately, when we allow ourselves to create a story or narrative around our assumptions, it creates a host of issues.

According to Dr. Joseph Dispenza, the brain processes 400 billions bits of information per second, but we are only aware of 2,000 of those. To help us manage all the data coming in, we create shortcuts using our past experiences to process our thinking. Often, errors occur when we don’t use fact-based information, and have a lack of mutual understanding. This results in suboptimal decisions that impacts our teams, creates a lack of trust, and promotes conflict. This thinking process is described as the Ladder of Inference. Without realizing it, we go through this thinking process to get from a fact to a decision or an action. The thinking stages can be seen as the rungs of a ladder.

What is the Ladder of Inference?

The Ladder of Inference was first put forward by organizational psychologist Chris Argyris and popularized by Peter Senge in The Fifth Discipline: The Art and Practice of the Learning Organization.

The thinking process starts at the bottom of the ladder where we have observable external data that we use to filter and select the information we want to use. This is generally based on what we believe to be true. Next, we add our own cultural and personal meanings to the information we have and make assumptions. As we draw our conclusions, we update our beliefs about the world and take action based on those beliefs.

We develop stories in our minds about events and people without realizing we are doing it. These stories affect our communications and interactions with others.

Our ladders are unconscious and implicit. The ladder is invisible to us until we surface it to our conscious thinking and it remains untested until we make it transparent to others who can help us test our data or information, the filters we use on our data, the meaning we apply to it.

When we make our thinking transparent to others, they are able to provide us with additional information. They can reveal the meanings they apply to data and explain their own assumptions and conclusions. This is how we get to better decisions and move to conscious and explicit thinking.

By understanding your Ladder of Inference:
You become more aware of your own thinking and reasoning
– You can ask questions to make your thinking and reasoning more visible to others
– Check your assumptions when you inquire into other peoples’ thinking and reasoning
– Through all of this, you will find mutual understanding

The Ladder of Inference is helpful in understanding how you think and the impact your thinking can have. By increasing your consciousness, you will be better equipped to build trust and a stronger team, reduce conflict, make better decisions, and solve the right problems. When you become more aware of your own thinking, you can adapt in situational leadership to be a more effective leader in your organization.

The next time you feel yourself jumping to conclusions, we challenge you to stop, understand how you may be running this information up your ladder, and refocus your thinking. How can you be more conscious in your conversations today? What questions can you ask to be more aware?

If you’re ready to transition from a manager to a leader, discover your authentic leadership style in Leadership Beyond Management. This week-long, interactive program will help you learn to lead intentionally through a 360-degree leadership assessment and a post-program coaching session. 

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