10/9/2022, 11:35 a.m. CST
Read Time: 2 min. 33 sec.
Last week we were introduced to the ladder of inference. The ladder of inference is a mental model that helps us understand how we come to the conclusions we make. It starts with the data we take in from our senses (what we see, hear, etc.). From there, we add our own interpretation to the data. Finally, we come to a conclusion and take action based on that conclusion. When used correctly, the ladder can save you from the proverbial foot-in-the-mouth. This is done by thinking more with facts and not automatically jumping to conclusions. Ultimately, the ladder can help you explain your thinking and reasoning to others.
Thinking and explaining your thinking to someone isn't always the easiest. Sometimes we clam up, get defensive, or avoid the situation altogether, which drowns any potential for collaboration—knowing how and when to collegially say what you're thinking is done through a balance of advocacy (stating our views) and inquiry (asking questions).
We must know when it is the right time to state our views and ask questions; context is critical. Pushing out emergency information would not be a time for inquiry. However, having a planning meeting and leaving with a plan for communicating emergency information would include a healthy combination of advocacy and inquiry.
Below are a few protocols and prompts written by Senge et al. (2012) that help facilitate advocacy and inquiry with some pointers on what to say when you get stuck in a situation (pp. 104-107).
To help with advocacy (stating your views):
To help with inquiry (asking questions to reveal thinking in others):
When you are stuck in a disagreement:
When you are at an impasse:
In any situation, we must be aware of our biases and assumptions. We all tend to jump to conclusions, which can lead to conflict and misunderstanding. Recall the ladder of inference is a model to help us slow down our jumping to conclusions. The best way to avoid conflict and misunderstanding while building diverse perspectives is to practice a balance of advocacy and inquiry.
Inquiry involves asking questions and genuinely listening to the answers. Advocacy is about sharing our views in a way that invites dialogue and debate. Combining these two approaches creates an environment where different perspectives can be heard and respected. This, in turn, leads to greater collaboration and understanding. So, the next time you find yourself in a disagreement, remember the importance of advocacy and inquiry. It may just be the key to finding common ground. See this short article from the Systems Thinker to learn more about how to have productive conversations.