What Is the Ladder of Inference?

The Ladder of Inference describes the thinking process that we go through, usually without realizing it, to get from a fact to a decision or action. The thinking stages can be seen as rungs on a ladder and are shown in figure 1.

Using the Ladder of Inference

The 7 steps of the ladder of inference

The ladder of inference’s framework can be constructed in a variety of ways, but the most popular framework involves dividing the ladder into seven “rungs”:

1. Observe data

Observing the reality and facts in your immediate environment is the first step in the ladder of inference. This includes all information that can be seen, such as spoken words, body language, tone of voice, news reports, survey findings, etc.

2. Select data

Selecting the data you will process is the second step in the inference ladder. You often have to make deliberate decisions about which specific information to choose and what to ignore because you can’t always pay attention to all the facts and reality that are available. This selection process mainly occurs subconsciously.

3. Interpret meanings

The third step of the ladder of inference is where you tend to interpret the data in light of your personal biases, past experiences, and beliefs.

4. Make assumptions

Step four, the middle rung of the ladder, is where you tend to make assumptions after choosing and giving meaning to the data. You might be inclined to make snap judgments about what’s going on at this point in the ladder of inference and disregard all the other information and realities.

5. Draw conclusions

Starting to make conclusions is step five in the ladder of inference. You typically provide an explanation for why a specific event is occurring and draw firm conclusions based on your interpretations and assumptions. All facts and realities are not taken into account to reach this conclusion, just like in the stage of the ladder prior to this one (assumptions).

6. Adopt beliefs

You may adopt beliefs about circumstances that are connected to your conclusions at the sixth level of inference. It is quite common to notice that these beliefs tend to influence how you will perceive similar situations in the future.

7. Take action(s)

When you take action, you are on the seventh rung and peak of the inference ladder. You make decisions and tend to act in accordance with those decisions based on your assessment of the situation and the assumptions you’ve made.

How you choose and interpret data is influenced by your assumptions, beliefs, and values. These interpretations and choices will influence the choices you make the next time you encounter a situation like this.

The reflexive loop is an action that occurs between the second step of the ladder of inference (selected data) and the sixth step (beliefs), and it is a cycle that causes you to consistently act on skewed perceptions and scant information about a situation.

What is the ladder of inference?

The ladder of inference is a framework that outlines the decision-making process that will assist you. You frequently go through the steps of this process, either consciously or unconsciously, in order to evaluate a fact, come to a conclusion, or take a certain action.

You can avoid relying on your own interpretations and assumptions by using the ladder of inference and its seven rungs to make informed decisions.

Chris Argyris, a business theorist, first proposed the ladder of inference model in 1970. The Fifth Discipline: The Art & Practice of the Learning Organization, written by MIT professor Peter Senge in 1990, contributed to the further popularization of Argyris’ theory.

Tips for using the ladder of inference

Inquire into your thoughts at each stage and discover your motivations. According to the circumstance, it is preferable to occupy the lower rungs of the inference ladder or to descend whenever possible. Here are some additional techniques for using the ladder of inference to improve judgment:

Why should you use the ladder of inference?

Using the ladder of inference enables you to examine facts and data objectively and prevents you from drawing conclusions too quickly. Understanding the role of emotional intelligence in the reasoning process makes it easier for you to analyze information while being more conscious of your emotions and thoughts.

Ladder of inference example

Think about the following situation from real life where it might have been better to descend the ladder of inference before making a judgment about a coworker:

Sam, one of the team members, is not paying attention to Anna as she is giving a presentation to them. Sam is agitated and glued to his phone throughout the presentation. Here is an illustration of Anna’s reasoning using the ladder of inference:

But think about some other potential causes for Sam to check his phone during Anna’s presentation, such as anticipating a very important personal call or message, researching Anna’s presentation, or even attempting to turn off his phone but being prevented by system updates. If Anna had known any of these explanations for why Sam was looking at his phone, she might have made a different judgment and decided not to ignore Sam the next time.


How many steps are in a ladder of Inference?

There are a few different ways to set up the ladder of inference framework, but the most popular model involves dissecting the ladder into the following seven rungs.

Who developed ladder of Inference?

In The Fifth Discipline: The Art and Practice of the Learning Organization, Peter Senge makes use of the Ladder of Inference, which was first proposed by organizational psychologist Chris Argyris.

How many rungs are in a ladder of Inference?

Ladder of Inference model. The seven steps or rungs that make up the Ladder of Inference are where the reasoning process begins.

What is the danger of the reflexive loop in the ladder of Inference theory?

Once you have formed firm beliefs, you might notice that you are increasingly choosing information that supports those same beliefs. This is the “reflexive loop”. It prompts you to make decisions and take actions that appear to be very fact-based quickly climb the ladder.

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