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By Fred Kofman
Philosopher and Vice President at Linkedin

“Smart people don’t learn… because they have too much invested in proving that they know and avoiding being seen as not knowing.”  Chris Argyris

Have you been accused of jumping to conclusions? That’s not quite accurate.

You don’t jump to conclusions; you climb to them unconsciously. It looks like you jump because you don’t notice the automatic process that takes you from observations to interpretations, from interpretations to conclusions and from conclusions to actions. The organizational theorist Chris Argyris named this process: “the ladder of inference”.

Because you climb this ladder unconsciously, the conclusion seems to you as obvious as the facts themselves. So just like you wouldn’t discuss whether the Earth is round, you won’t discuss whether 8/10/15 is August 10th, 2015.

So if I promise to deliver a shipment to you on that date, you will be angry when I don’t show up that day.

But being from Argentina, I’ll be upset when you complain to me on August 11th, since I believe that my promise is not due for two more months. 8/10/15 means to me October 8th, 2015.

You will experience me as unfairly defensive and I will experience you as unfairly aggressive. We will get stuck in an unproductive discussion because neither of us is aware that we are using different conventions to interpret dates. We are both jumping to the arrogant conclusion that “I’m right and you’re wrong.”

An Antidote For Knower’s Arrogance

You will never get curious unless you first feel you don’t know. That’s why arrogance is the sign of the knower who assumes she has the truth and humility the sign of the learner who assumes he needs to inquire into the other person’s perspective.

In this video you will understand how the ladder of inference works and why it is an antidote for arrogance. In the next post, we’ll look at the rungs of this ladder in detail. And in the post after that we’ll derive practical implications and recommendations for increasing your professional and personal effectiveness.

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