Ladder of reflexion


Being able to question our own assumptions and paying attention to how we think and interpret situations. It allows us to see our own ‘issue’ within the context of a broader, whole-systems perspective that includes multiple ‘issues’.


  • On an individual base by tutor/mentor during observation or during preparation of debriefing of a a fellow.
  • During debriefing with a fellow.
  • During discussion between fellow and student when there is a problem.


The Ladder of inference is a model of steps that can be used to make sense of situations in order to act. It can be used in the three following ways:

  • Becoming aware of your own thoughts and reasoning.
  • Make clear to others how your own reasoning process works. This will allow others to have a better understanding of someone’s motives.
  • Research the thought process of other people, by actively asking them about it.

Methodology and timing
The Ladder of Inference consists of seven steps and the reasoning process starts at the bottom of the ladder.

  1. Reality and facts
    This level identifies what is directly perceptible. You observe all information from the real world.
  2. Selecting facts
    From this level, the facts are selected based on convictions and prior experiences. The frame of reference plays a role in this.
  3. Interpreting facts
    The facts are interpreted and given a personal meaning.
  4. Assumptions
    At this level, assumptions are made based on the meaning you give to your observations. These assumptions are personal and are different for every individual.
  5. Conclusions
    At this level, conclusions are drawn based on prior beliefs.
  6. Belief
    At this level, conclusions are drawn based on interpreted facts and prior assumptions.
  7. Actions
    This is the highest level. Actions are now taken based on prior beliefs and conclusions. The actions that are taken seem to be the best at that particular moment.
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.


Sometimes it is smart to go back to a lower step of the ladder of inference. By asking yourself what you are thinking and why at each step, you will be able to analyse each step and no longer jump to premature conclusions.

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