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Learn how to slow the climb up the Ladder of Inference: Part 3

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Another method of practicing how we describe behavior is to think about and review the last group project we undertook inside or outside of work and write down how we thought each person did or contributed. The next step to this exercise would be to review the list and apply a filter of objectivity; meaning asking ourselves if what we’ve written is really descriptive of the actual behavior or if it’s a label we’ve added.

For example, if we wrote that someone in the group was “disengaged,” we could ask what exactly that means or what behavior we observed that made us make that assumption. The key to this activity is to ensure we haven’t written down our conclusions and assumptions; rather, we’re writing down only what we’ve observed. Taking the time to review what was originally written and then what was changed or updated will help show us where we might be adding our own stories of what is occurring.

Getting into the habit of operating in the mode of describing what we see instead of using short words or descriptions that are essentially our own beliefs of what is happening is the first step to breaking the habit of assumption. For each rung, it’s helpful to formulate a few questions to ask ourselves and to practice doing so by using real-life examples of past situations.

The next step is to get into the habit of challenging those around us to describe what they mean when they use their own “label words” on behavior. The space where words of assumption are most often used are during feedback sessions in one-on-ones or during the annual review process with our managers. Challenging them to look at how they climb their own Ladder of Inference not only helps them to slow down and really think about how they’re labeling situations, but it gives us the chance to add our meaning and the end result should be more enriching feedback that we can learn from and actually do something with.

Slowing the climb up the Ladder of Inference is not an easy thing to accomplish because of how and what we’ve learned up to this point in our lives. However, being able to analyze situations against questions of the ladder and making a conscious effort to challenge ourselves daily to describe what we observe will help get us there.

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