Melissa Robbins – Ladder Of Inference

So much of our time as management consultants is spent adding new tools and methods to our repertoire - certifying in this, qualifying in that.


So much of our time as management consultants is spent adding new tools and methods to our repertoire – certifying in this, qualifying in that. This investment is both essential and important for professional development, and in continuing to meet client expectations in an increasingly competitive market.  Perhaps equally as essential is dedicating some time to look inward; to deeply reflect on how we are as human beings, and how our colleagues, on-site blended teams and clients perceive and experience us.

Apis is committed to supporting the ongoing professional development of its people in a variety of ways, and one of these is by hosting regular breakfast sessions. The dedicated monthly forums give our broader team the opportunity to come together centrally, meet new faces, learn about a range of topics, and thanks to our amazing operations team, enjoy some seriously good food!

We recently held a thought-provoking conversation ignited by the research of the late Chris Argyris (Professor Emeritus, Harvard Business School) relating to the Ladder of Inference andProductive Reasoning.

A couple of our teammates supported our discussion through the provision of impromptu theatrics. They played out a familiar “employee to manager” conversation, whereby the employee felt:

And the manager felt:

The mock scenario provided the perfect launchpad for a fantastic conversation about who was in the right and wrong, and the causes of disconnect between the two individuals. It was apparent that although we had observed a fiery verbal (and non-verbal) interchange between two individuals, there was little to no communication occurring. While both people shared a physical space and took turns to speak, neither person was receiving the message of the other.

Both the employee and manager were clouded by their own preconceived ideas about the situation, and were so busy building their own cases that they had completely missed what the other person was saying. For all intents and purposes, both parties were having separate conversations.

Not only is this situation an occupational hazard of being human, but it also highlights the importance of being self-aware, particularly given the trust placed in us onsite by our clients. As consultants, we are required to quickly consume large amounts of data and synthesise what we have learned in order to help navigate successful outcomes for government and the broader community. Understanding how we, as individuals, receive and evaluate data is extremely important, as it helps us shape our approaches in response to reality, rather than responding to what we think the problem is based on our own judgement, or predefined view of how the world is.