In Part I and Part II of this exploration of contributions to pre-decision discussions, I examined how we use facts and emotions in discussion contributions. We can think of facts and emotions as the raw materials of the discussion. Reasoning is a tool for combining the raw materials into a comprehensible structure. So in this part I examine how the three different kinds of reasoning can build new components that help us find paths to final decisions.
Three forms of reasoning are available for use in pre-decision discussions. Most uses of reasoning in organizational settings are informal, but even in informal reasoning there are some refining attributes. Those attributes distinguish the three forms of reasoning.
- Deductive reasoning
- We use deductive reasoning to proceed from premises to conclusions in a sequence of steps, each step following from its predecessors by implication. Deductive reasoning provides strong validation for its conclusion. For example, if we know that testing is the only way to be certain that our software application works as intended, and we also know that we haven't tested our software application in a given release of an operating system, then it follows that we don't know for certain whether our software application works in that release of the operating system. The software might work, or it might not work, but we can be certain that we don't know for certain.
- Deductive reasoning based on validated facts and evidence provides a validated conclusion. That is its appeal. But rarely do we have validated facts and evidence, because we rarely have the time and resources required for validating those facts and evidence.
- Inductive reasoning
- Inductive reasoning also proceeds from premises to a conclusion, but it establishes the conclusion as a generalization of the premises. When the basis for the generalization is data regarding large numbers of examples, the generalization is statistical. When the basis for the generalization is a limited number of cases deemed typical of a large class, the generalization is anecdotal. Neither kind of generalization leads with certainty to a valid conclusion. For this reason, inductive reasoning is less likely to provide strong validation for the conclusion.
- But inductive reasoning is still useful. Continuing with our software example, suppose we know that the operating system release in question is a minor update of the previous release, and that our software worked well in four previous minor updates. Reasoning inductively, we then have reason to believe that the software will work in this new minor release. It might work, or it might not work. We don't know for certain, but based on past experience, we believe there is a strong chance that the software will work.
- Abductive reasoning
- Abductive reasoning is neither deductive nor inductive, but, in a weird way, it can be both. Distinguishing abductive reasoning and deductive reasoning can be difficult, because what Sherlock Holmes (Arthur Conan Doyle actually) calls deductive is in the modern terminology, abductive.
- When we're Reasoning is a tool for combining the
raw materials of a discussion — facts
and emotion — into a comprehensible
structure that helps us
find paths to decisionsreasoning abductively, we begin by gathering data about the situation. We then formulate an explanation. That is, we apply principles that we believe pertain to that situation to provide an explanation for what we observe about the situation.
- To illustrate, consider yet another extension of the software example. Suppose we actually test our software on 22 machines running the minor update of the operating system. And further suppose that on three of the 22 machines, the software fails. Examining all 22 machines, we notice that the three that failed were also running an old version of a popular word processing program. The machines on which our software operated correctly were running an updated version of that word processing program. Using abductive reasoning we suggest that an unanticipated interaction could be occurring between our software and the word processor. Engineers then investigate further, and they do discover the problem and install a repair.
Using deductive reasoning, we find a conclusion by starting with premises, and creating a chain of implications connecting them to the conclusion. Using inductive reasoning we create a generalization from the premises to reach a highly plausible conclusion. And using abductive reasoning we create an explanation that fits all available observations. Noticing the kinds of reasoning in use in your organization can help you reach more solid conclusions more rapidly. First in this series Top Next Issue
Do you spend your days scurrying from meeting to meeting? Do you ever wonder if all these meetings are really necessary? (They aren't) Or whether there isn't some better way to get this work done? (There is) Read 101 Tips for Effective Meetings to learn how to make meetings much more productive and less stressful — and a lot more rare. Order Now!
Your comments are welcomeWould you like to see your comments posted here? rbrenZLkFdSHmlHvCaSsuner@ChacbnsTPttsdDaRAswloCanyon.comSend me your comments by email, or by Web form.
About Point Lookout
Thank you for reading this article. I hope you enjoyed it and found it useful, and that you'll consider recommending it to a friend.
Support Point Lookout by joining the Friends of Point Lookout, as an individual or as an organization.
Do you face a complex interpersonal situation? Send it in, anonymously if you like, and I'll give you my two cents.
More articles on Conflict Management:
- The Fine Art of Quibbling
- We usually think of quibbling as an innocent swan dive into unnecessary detail, like calculating shares
of a lunch check to the nearest cent. In debate about substantive issues, a detour into quibbling can
be far more threatening — it can indicate much deeper problems.
- Can You Hear Me Now?
- Not feeling heard can feel like an attack, even when there was no attack, and then conversation can
quickly turn to war. Here are some tips for hearing your conversation partner and for conveying the
message that you actually did hear.
- Toxic Conflict in Virtual Teams: Virtuality
- In virtual teams, toxic conflict sometimes seems to erupt spontaneously. People who function effectively
in co-located teams can find themselves repeatedly embroiled in conflicts that seem to lack specific
causes. What triggers toxic conflict in virtual teams?
- Newly Virtual Politics: Choices
- Pandemic or not, workplace politics marches on, though politics might take slightly different forms
in a pandemic. Those different forms make new choices available, and render some formerly effective
- Risk Acceptance: One Path
- When a project team decides to accept a risk, and when their project eventually experiences that risk,
a natural question arises: What were they thinking? Cognitive biases, other psychological phenomena,
and organizational dysfunction all can play roles.
Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout
- Coming December 7: Reaching Agreements in Technological Contexts
- Reaching consensus in technological contexts presents special challenges. Problems can arise from interactions between the technological elements of the issue at hand, and the social dynamics of the group addressing that issue. Here are three examples. Available here and by RSS on December 7.
- And on December 14: Straw Man Variants
- The straw man fallacy is a famous rhetorical fallacy. Using it distorts debate and can lead groups to reach faulty conclusions. It's ad readily recognized, but it has some variants that are more difficult to spot. When unnoticed, trouble looms. Available here and by RSS on December 14.
I offer email and telephone coaching at both corporate and individual rates. Contact Rick for details at rbrenZLkFdSHmlHvCaSsuner@ChacbnsTPttsdDaRAswloCanyon.com or (650) 787-6475, or toll-free in the continental US at (866) 378-5470.
Get the ebook!
Past issues of Point Lookout are available in six ebooks:
- Get 2001-2 in Geese Don't Land on Twigs (PDF, )
- Get 2003-4 in Why Dogs Wag (PDF, )
- Get 2005-6 in Loopy Things We Do (PDF, )
- Get 2007-8 in Things We Believe That Maybe Aren't So True (PDF, )
- Get 2009-10 in The Questions Not Asked (PDF, )
- Get all of the first twelve years (2001-2012) in The Collected Issues of Point Lookout (PDF, )
Are you a writer, editor or publisher on deadline? Are you looking for an article that will get people talking and get compliments flying your way? You can have 500-1000 words in your inbox in one hour. License any article from this Web site. More info