An exchange with Valeria Maltoni at Conversation Agent reminded me of another great conversation agent, Dr. Steven Feinberg at ROI Dynamics, with whom I had the great opportunity of working some years back. We talked about corporate culture, specifically the art of listening. What an unpracticed art. Being a listener has become something like being a blacksmith at this point. You may know someone who can do it, but heck, nobody does that kind of thing anymore… we’ve advanced beyond the need for this … too damn busy… sorry, have to take this call… and answer these emails…
Steve’s point was animated by what he called The Ladder of Inference. An excellent metaphor. And I’m a metaphor guy. So this really worked. The Ladder of Inference, as Steve described it, goes like this:
You and the person you’re talking to quickly climb your respective ladders of inference, not really listening to what the other is saying, and hurl conclusions at each other.
In a better world, where people listen, it goes like this:
You and the person you’re talking to stay low on the Ladder of Inference, infer more, listen more, keep your respective ego’s in check, and have what used to be refered to as “a conversation.”
Learning organizations have conversations. Organizations that don’t learn quickly scale their ladders and hurl their conclusions at each other. Per Mike Wagner’s and Roger von Oech’s recent “thin slice” meme, you know this is happening when the person you’re talking to doesn’t actually make eye contact with you while you’re talking but, rather, is mentally rehearsing their next speech, only becoming re-engaged in the conversation when they realize they can butt back in.
Think about this the next time you’re in the board room debating a contentious topic. Watch those of both sides. Are they listening or are they preparing to hurl their next conclusion at you? Are you?
Copyright (c) 2007 Stephen Denny
“mentally rehersing their next speech”
I have a friend who calls this – “reloading”.
I’m a metaphor guy too; the Ladder of Inference is a great image.
Thanks for extending the conversation.
I’m thrilled that my post provided inspiration, that’s what having conversations is all about. I too am a fan of metaphors, no doubt a product of my classical education and all the Greek mythology and Latin oratory readings.
I love your use of the ladder image. I too used a ladder in a post written a long time ago. I borrowed the image from a dialogue in “The Name of the Rose” by Umberto Eco. If interested, the link to that post is here http://conversationagent.typepad.com/conversation_agent/2006/09/the_truth_of_si.html.
Thanks to both of you, Mike and Valeria, for your notes — I’m as guilty as any when it comes to scrambling up the ladder. I credit Dr. Steve for pointing this out and giving me a tool for understanding this.
It’s uncomfortable to find these bad habits in yourself. It’s also very illuminating to notice how often this happens in business, school, politics (yikes), and everywhere else you look. Interestingly, I’ve found that by staying low — and proving that you’re listening — you can bring the other person down. You might even have a conversation. You never know.
I only had time to glance at your post because I was too busy thinking of a witty comment.
We caught Roger ‘reloading’…
Steve,Thank you for opening my eyes to all my one-sided conversations.I now that it was brought to my attention from reading “The Ladder of Inference” I can now stop and listen without reacting so quickly in a conversation.