Conflicts are more easily resolved when we accept different viewpoints.
Mediation techniques, like non-violent communication, invite the conflicting parties to return to what they observe, how it makes them feel, and what needs they might have, with respect to the situation at hand. If we can get people to first agree about some level of ‘consensus reality’ regarding a given situation, it is much easier to make them aware of their core beliefs and assumptions and how these lead them to interpret or judge that situation in different ways.
Being able to question our own assumptions and paying attention to how we think and interpret situations is a crucial skill for anybody wanting to co-create a regenerative culture.
The Ladder of Inference
The ladder of inference is a model that makes us pay attention to how we think, create and reinforce assumptions and beliefs. First developed by Harvard Professor, Chris Argyris, the model highlights our tendency to confuse our assessment of a given situation with the supposed ‘facts’ of the situation. The model illustrates how our assumptions shape the way we see the world and how we form conclusions about a certain situation based on our assumptions.
The ladder of inference explains in a simplified way that we select certain data out of the observable facts in front of us. We then add meaning to these experiences, which in turn influences the assumptions we make, and how we draw certain conclusions that shape our beliefs about the world. These beliefs guide how we respond to situations and act in the world. Most importantly, the ladder of inference highlights that there is an often ignored ‘reflexive loop’ through which the beliefs we formed, based on past experiences and cultural conditioning, actually influence what facts we choose to pay attention to in the first place. Our dominant belief systems and worldviews critically influence which alternative—possibly important—facts or interpretations we choose to ignore.
The ladder of inference describes the thinking process from a fact to a decision or action.
By becoming more aware of the different steps we are taking on the ladder, we can question our own assumptions, conclusions and beliefs and those of others. Here is a list of questions that can be used in taking individuals or groups through their own process of reasoning and reaching proposals for action. They invite us to apply the ‘ladder of inference’ to our own perspectives and those of others:
- Which observable facts and experiences am I basing my reasoning on, and are there other facts to consider?
- How and why did I choose certain data and regard other data as less relevant?
- What are the underlying assumptions I am employing and are they valid? (Based on what underlying assumptions am I judging their validity?)
- What beliefs underlie my perspective and how have these beliefs influenced what I observed and which data I chose?
- Why am I proposing to follow this course of action and what alternatives or complementary actions should/could we consider?
Question your own assumptions, conclusions and beliefs, and those of others.
The System as a Whole
Going through such a process of conscious questioning of different perspectives in a group that faces disagreement might not fully resolve the conflict, but it will certainly help to better understand the different perspectives. This increased understanding of multiple perspectives can help us to form a more systemic understanding of the issue, which in turn might offer an opportunity to discover common ground (shared needs, values and beliefs) which can help us to move forward on the issues in a more inclusive and participatory way. It may help us to act more wisely in the face of not knowing and uncertainty.
In my own experience of facilitating and taking part in such processes of ‘deeper questioning’, simply the practice of asking such questions to get clear about the different perspectives and the assumptions that inform us can help to open up a gateway towards the resolution of what can initially be perceived as an irreconcilable conflict. It allows people to see their own ‘issue’ within the context of a broader, whole-systems perspective that includes multiple ‘issues’. Simply being heard, valued and acknowledged can generate a willingness to compromise one’s own needs in a collaborative attempt to acknowledge and address the needs of others and the health, wellbeing and resilience of the system as a whole.
Originally posted on Hacker Noon