Falling Off The Ladder of Inference

Here’s a typical scenario which explains the ladder of inference…

You briefed your assistant Jo yesterday to draft a document and give it to you first thing this morning. It’s on your desk at 10.00am (not exactly first thing!) and it’s got errors (the client name) and typos in it.

The information you are choosing not to focus on is:

  • Jo is very busy on other work with tight deadlines
  • You didn’t ask how busy Jo was when you did the briefing
  • You briefed Jo in a hurry and the briefing was incomplete
  • Jo didn’t ask any questions because she didn’t want you to think she is unintelligent

Within seconds, your subconscious mind adds meaning and makes assumptions about this experience, such as:

  • Jo is a typical Millennial
  • She isn’t diligent and is likely to hand in sloppy work in future
  • Jo isn’t interested in developing her career

You then go further and draw conclusions and develop additional beliefs, such as

  • Jo is not reliable
  • She is not professional

On the basis that you now don’t trust Jo, you take action and avoid using Jo on your projects in future. Wow! Seems harsh. Poor Jo!

Is there a happy ending? Well, not for you! Jo’s career doesn’t flourish with you, but she finds another job with a rival firm where there is a better boss who delegates work thoroughly and doesn’t jump to conclusions. You end up under-resourced and working even later most evenings!

Do you recognise how easy it is to make these false judgements? All because we select what information we choose and then make invalid assumptions.

Tip for Supervisors: check all the data and ask yourself what beliefs and assumptions you are adding.

Best practice in delegating and supervising at https://tonyreiss.com/2019/03/19/leadership-development-in-just-two-hours-and-less-than-500-words/

Source: The above process is adapted from The Ladder of Inference, a model developed by Chris Argyris and developed further by Peter Senge in The Fifth Discipline.

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