I don’t know about you, but I know that I am really good at making up stories based on my observations. Right? So I was relieved to find out that this is due to neurological connections that we all possess within our brain. Being the science geek that I am, I get a kick out of explanations of human behavior that can be scientifically explained. So do you want to know why you automatically jump to a conclusion based on very little information…like why that driver ahead of you is an idiot…
It’s called The Ladder of Inference, a model of how people process information developed by Chris Argyris. This is how we validate our belief systems and it all happens within the internet of our brain in split seconds.
Simply put, here’s how it works:
1. You observe Data, which is selected according to your prior experience, and overlook any data that doesn’t match what you expect.
The car in front of you has a blinking left turn signal, it pauses briefly, then goes straight through the intersection slowly, causing you delay.
2. You affix Meaning to the data you have observed.
The driver is confused about where he is going.
3. You develop Assumptions, based on that Meaning.
The driver didn’t plan ahead and doesn’t have a GPS system.
4. You use those Assumptions as the basis of your Conclusions.
The driver is an unorganized and unreliable person and he is a poor driver.
5. You develop Beliefs or reinforce the beliefs you already have based on your Conclusions.
All drivers that look lost are unorganized, unreliable people and are poor drivers.
6. Your Beliefs then form the basis for your Actions.
You find the first opportunity to pass the car, speed by and shake your head thinking about what an idiot he is.
7. Your Actions create new observable Data.
You’re thankful you’ve passed the car and you are now looking for and expecting to see the next car that will cause you delay.
8. Repeat steps 2 through 7.
See how easy it is? I’ve worked with many clients within this model. The next time you find yourself making up a story, ask yourself these questions before you take action.
- What are the facts and evidence I’ve observed? In the above example, the facts are that you saw a blinking left turn signal in the car ahead of you, the car seemed to pause, and the car traveled straight through the intersection more slowly than you would have liked. That’s it. That’s all that you observed.
Based on your experience, you’ve seen this type of activity before, and these types of drivers always get in your way, slow you down, and you wish they’d get their act together before they clog up the roadways. This is the filter you are using to view fellow drivers around you. Can you change your filter?
- Is there any other possible explanation? The truth is that there is always another possible story.
In the above example, the truth is that the driver had every intention of turning left, but a petite elderly woman was crossing the street very slowly (you did not notice this because you were scanning your radio channels while waiting for him to turn). While waiting for her to cross, he noticed that there was a long line of stopped traffic within the next block behind her. Checking his rearview mirror, he sees you waiting patiently and decides to continue through the intersection cautiously, making sure that there are no other cars attempting to pass him on the right side.
There is always another possibility. How does your belief of the situation affect your decision to take action? What action would you take if you did not believe your first conclusion?
Pay attention to your thought processes this week and see if you can identify times when you’ve acted too quickly based on a conclusion that was not supported with sufficient evidence.