The Ladder Of Inference

By Fred Kofman
Philosopher and Vice President at Linkedin

I just had an e-argument with a colleague. Two days ago he asked me to send him some information “as soon as I could”. I’ve been traveling with poor internet connection, so I was planning to send him the data next week. Today he wrote me an angry message demanding the information “now”. I wrote him back dryly arguing that “now” was “sooner than I could”. I think he’s pushy. I’m sure he thinks I’m unresponsive. I’ll try to avoid him next week when we’re both at the office.

According to Harvard Business School professor Chris Argyris my colleage and I are not alone. Most of us:

  • Experience facts selectively based on our beliefs.
  • Interpret what they mean based on our unconscious assumptions.
  • Draw conclusions based on the interpreted facts.
  • Adopt beliefs based on these conclusions.
  • Take actions based on what we believe.

This creates a vicious circle. Our beliefs condition how we select data from reality, and can lead us to ignore “inconvenient” facts altogether.

Soon we are using self-sealing reasoning, closing ourselves up to any challenge and adopting the arrogant attitude of the knower.

The Ladder Of Inference

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