Anil was a marketing manager at a mid-sized technology company, and his department had been under immense stress lately due to tight deadlines.

So, Anil was understandably frustrated when he noticed that one of his team members, Priyank, walked in half an hour late. Anil went up to Priyank’s desk and reminded him of the team’s tight deadlines.

Anil later learned that Priyank was late because his car broke down on the way to work. He called the front desk but the receptionist couldn’t convey the message to Anil.

If Anil knew what had happened, would he have chosen the same path? Probably not.

Anil is not the only business owner or manager to draw conclusions based on assumptions. Many of us have certain assumptions and arrive at conclusions based on limited data or information. But a smarter way to tackle such a situation would be to collect all the information about a situation and think critically.

That’s where the Ladder of Inference comes into the picture.

What is the Ladder of Inference?

The Ladder of Inference is a framework that helps you get perspective and minimizes biases. This helps you make better decisions and take appropriate fact-based action. You can learn in detail about this framework by taking up the Thinking Critically course offered by Harappa Education.

Let explain the Ladder of Inference with an example.

The framework mirrors the common process of decision-making that we all naturally go through. Each rung of the Ladder of Inference represents a step towards appropriate decision-making. The right way to think critically is to move up each rung before making a decision or taking action.

Still, confused about how this framework works? Let’s dig deeper with Ladder of Inference examples to see how our beliefs determine our responses :

  1. STEP 1: Selected Reality

More often than not, we like to make a ‘split-second decision’ or ‘jump to a conclusion’. We don’t use all the available facts and data to make every decision, but the Ladder of Inference approach can help you do so.

For example, in Anil’s case, the issue of Priyank showing up 30 minutes late could have easily been tackled. This is one of the commonly noticed Ladder of Inference examples.

  1. STEP 2: Interpreted Reality

Next, we try to interpret the information based on our past experiences, preferences, and beliefs. There are many Ladder of Inference examples based on information about a person’s past.

For example, if Anil had assessed Priyank’s past performance and found him prompt and committed to his work, he would have understood that Priyank would not show up late on purpose.

  1. STEP 3: Make Assumptions

Interpreting the information leads to the third rung of the ladder, which is making assumptions. Interestingly, making assumptions can lead us to wrong conclusions. So validate your assumptions before you jump to conclusions.

For example, if Anil had interpreted that Priyank was a committed worker, based on his past performance, he would have assumed that Priyank was fully involved with the current project and had the current deadlines in mind.

  1. STEP 4: Drawing Conclusions

We assume things through the lens of our past experiences and, based on our value system of right or wrong, we draw conclusions based on these assumptions.

For example, Anil would have finally concluded that Priyank cares about the team’s reputation and his performance as a professional.

But a wrong assumption can take things in another direction as well. Imagine if Anil’s assessment of Priyank’s past work was negative. In that case, the conclusion would have been diametrically opposite.

  1. STEP 5: Take Action

After you have reached a conclusion, the final step is to take action.

In the example being discussed, if Anil had come to a positive conclusion about Priyank, he would have asked Priyank what went wrong, trusted him, and, if required, confirmed from the receptionist.

While using the Ladder of Inference, it’s important to ask meaningful questions. Using different types of questions can help obtain different views, details, linkages, and insights into the situation. Remember that asking impactful and deep-dive questions can help you analyze any situation better.

The last word

What Anil, however, did show was that jumping up the ladder or skipping the process completely can lead you into arriving at the wrong conclusions.

This was just one example. But we all come across numerous situations in professional as well as personal lives, whether it’s making a presentation, making assumptions about a colleague or manager, or interpreting different situations.

Understanding and practicing the Ladder of Inference in daily life will help you master critical thinking. You will then avoid jumping to conclusions and embarrassing yourself. Join Harappa’s Thinking Critically course today to ease your journey.


Explore topics such as Critical Thinking, Examples of Critical Thinking & How to Improve Critical Thinking from our Harappa Diaries blog section and develop your strategic thinking skills.

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