One exercise that is quite helpful in slowing the climb up the Ladder of Inference is to think about how we describe what we see and change it to be more objective and descriptive. For example, the first place we can practice this is simply by walking into a room full of people and describing what we see without adding our own assumption of behavior.
When we observe the people in the room, chances are we’ll see people with their arms crossed, people frowning, or people whispering to each other. Our normal mode of operation is likely to look at these people and think that the folks with their arms crossed are closed off and not interested, the individuals frowning are mad and don’t care to be there, and the people whispering to each other are probably talking about other people in the room.
In reality, the people with their arms crossed could just be cold or be more comfortable in that position, the people frowning could be deep in thought, and the people whispering to each other could be discussing something for work in a way that doesn’t disturb the rest of the room’s occupants.
This activity could be practiced with friends, family, or co-workers and after the initial review and assumption is made, each person could be asked to describe why they are doing what they’re doing (smiling, crossing their arms, frowning, etc.). Comparing initial thoughts with their description is a great way to show us where we might be adding our own story to a situation and thus, helping us to slow that climb up the ladder.
Stay tuned for part three of this article, which continues the discussion on how to be more thoughtful as we move up the Ladder of Inference.