077: Communication (II)

Season Two Jun 14, 2021

The "Ladder of Inference"

Have you heard of this concept?

Idea credit:
Chris Argyris

It's a handy visual framework that describes how people interpret reality, create narrative, and form their beliefs.

My rendition :

At the bottom, there's some sort of shared reality. At the top, our individual beliefs and actions. Between them, multiple layers of abstraction (available data, selected data, interpretations, conclusions etc).

Using the Ladder of Inference

I think this model offers some useful applications:  

1. It reminds me that I jump to conclusions. At each rung, humans apply assumptions and subconscious patterns. Selective attention is in our nature.

2. It describes how subjective experiences can vary widely. Opinions form based on our filters of judgment. We notice information (and take action!) that confirms existing beliefs. We're wired to make meaning and minimize cognitive dissonance.

3. When there is disagreement, the ladder can help identify a root cause. Next time someone does something strange and (seemingly) inexplicable, try to pause and ask: At what rung did we diverge?

Multiple readers have suggested that causality runs in both directions. In other words, people create stories that align with choices that we've already made.

What do you think?
Is this framework useful?

Share your thoughts:


Related reading :

075: Communication (I)
Ten communication thoughts (notes to self).
045: Different Scales
What are the smallest / largest things?
063: Team Dynamics
A quick summary of “The Four Player Model”.
014: Brain Scans
Some visuals from a neuroscience study.