1. How we act depends on how we understand the situation we are in.
  2. Our understandings often seem obvious to us, as if they were given by the situation itself.
  3. But people can come to very different understandings, depending on what aspects of the situation they notice
  4. and how they interpret what is going on.


“Steps of Thinking” model is a series of the steps people use to make sense of situations ( in order to act. )

It helps us:

  • To think about our thinking
  • and, to coordinate our thinking with others.

It contains 3 general steps, after having the input data

  1. Select data
  2. Translate (comprehend) the Data
  3. Apply the data (to ourselves):
    1. delete what’s not important to us (allows to generalize),
    2. generalize to something we already know and understand,
    3. Select action for ourselves, convince ourselves to do the action,

Jumping from input to apply (skipping manual select and manual translate) creates problems.

To prevent problems:

  • Need to check if data is selected without error.
  • Need to check if data is translated without error.
    • When with other people, need to validate that all participants understand in a shared way how the data is translated,

Detailed explanation

The Situation or the Available Data: All the directly observable data that surround us in daily life, including people’s words, tone of voice, and body movement; and other observable information like statistical results from a marketing survey; accounting reports; and so on.

Example: Karen responds to your suggestion by pausing a moment and then saying, “That sounds like a rational approach.”

Step 1: Select Data: Because we can’t pay attention to all available data, we sometimes make conscious choices about what data to select and what to ignore. More often, though, the selection process occurs subconsciously.

Example: You notice that Karen paused and then described the suggestion as “a rational approach.”

Step 2: Translate (comprehend) Data: When the data we select has to do with human interaction—including spoken language, written communication, and gesture—we next put into our own (unspoken) words what the person is saying or doing. This paraphrasing occurs as we listen and is fundamental to how we interpret the meaning of people’s actions.

Example: You say to yourself, “Karen is saying that there is a problem with my suggestion. While it is rational, it does not address the emotions involved.”

Step 3: Apply the data to ourselves (comprehended the data): This step continues the interpretation process. It is applying the data to our context while deleting and generalizing. Deleting any information that is not related to our context and after deleting it is possible to make a more general category of data. A more general category makes it easier to decide.

Example: You characterize Karen’s actions as “Having doubts about my suggestion and covering them up.”

Step 4: Decide What to Do: Based on feeling, drawing on our repertoire of actions, we decide what to do. The automatic action is selected based on the internal situation and the external situation. what we usually do in this general situation.

Example: You decide to stop offering suggestions.

Step 5: Explain/Evaluate What Is Happening (rationalize): After having an action in consideration, we then check ourselves if we correct, we explain why we do it by drawing on our stock of causal theories. We may also evaluate it as good or bad by drawing on our value system. So we invent a story why it is true, we check many stories until we find one that justifies the action. this story used to justify our actions. if we check if it is good or bad.

Example: You make up that “Karen is uncomfortable with conflict and is politely preventing us from being of more help to her.”1

The problem: Fixating Loop: Our assumptions, values, and beliefs influence how we select data, interpret what is happening, and decide what to do.

Our interpretations and decisions then feedback to reinforce (usually) our assumptions, values, and beliefs.

We act on the basis of our interpretations, and our actions affect what data is available to us.

So our ways of understanding and acting in the world create a self-reinforcing system, insulating us from alternative ways of understanding.

The Impact of Jumping Up to Conclusions

( from step 1 directly to step 3) without manually thinking about selecting the data and talking about a shard and a common translation of data to a common understanding.

  • Our own conclusions seem obviously right to us.
  • People can and do reach different conclusions. When they each view their own conclusions as obvious, they don’t see a need to say how they reached them.
  • People see the different conclusions of others as obviously wrong, and invent reasons to explain why others say things that are so obviously wrong.
  • When people disagree, they often hurl conclusions at each other from the top of their respective ladders, making it hard to resolve differences and to learn from one another.

General Guidelines

  • Notice your conclusions as conclusions based on your inferences, not as self-evident facts.
  • Assume your reasoning process could have gaps or errors that you do not see.
  • Use examples to illustrate the data you select that led to your conclusions.
  • Paraphrase (out loud) the meanings you hear in what others say, so that you can check if you are understanding correctly.
  • Explain the steps in your thinking that take you from the data you select and the meanings you paraphrase to the conclusions you reach.
  • Ask others if they have other ways of interpreting the data or if they see gaps in your thinking.
  • Assume that others may reach different conclusions because they have their own Ladder of Inference with a logic that makes sense to them.
  • Ask others to illustrate the data they select and the meanings they paraphrase.
  • Ask others to explain the steps in their thinking.

adapted from: https://thesystemsthinker.com/the-ladder-of-inference/ by Creative commons share-alike license.