Fay Fransella (
Wed, 21 Apr 1999 13:39:08 -0400

Hello those who have been involved in the interesting discussion on
laddering. Rather late in the day I want to say why I have been left
feeling something is missing from the discussion. I have now worked out
what it is. In fact it is more than one thing.

The discussion has largely been about a "tool" or a "method" as if it had
sprung up out of nothing. That is, of course, not so. Denny Hinkle's work
was an elaboration of personal construct theory and laddering was designed
to test out the organisational corollary. One may say "so what?" I say
that any method comes carrying with it a number of underlying assumptions.

Having got that off my chest, I see the following missing from the

1. All personal constructs are supposed to be bi-polar, but I see nothing
that indicates people are eliciting that opposite pole of the laddered
construct. To me, when I first started using laddering in my research work
in the late 1960's, those opposites provided the real basis for my
understanding of what the client was trying to express. When teaching
laddering, I suggest that it is not necessary to ask what the opposite of
the elicited construct is every time, but to elicit it from time-to-time.
For instance, by saying something like: "OK, you prefer to be reserved
rather than emotional, why is that? What are the advantages, for you, of
being reserved?" Hinkle's client replied that if you were reserved " you
could be relaxed". The interviewer can then take that up by continuing the
sentence "...whereas if you are emotional ...?" It is difficult to put a
method into words. What I am trying to say is that I do not see how the
interviewer can understand the path of the client's construing without
knowing some of those opposites.

2. I suspect that when an interviewer complains that the client "is coming
down the ladder instead of going up" that is because the interviewer has
allowed that to happen. Laddering is a form of structured interviewing,
and the structure prevents mishaps like "slipping off the ladder".

3. Which brings me to the third point. No mention is made of subsuming the
client's construing. It has always seemed to me that laddering must be
close to the purest form of listening. The interviewer has to first
suspend his or her own value system, so as to be able to subsume (enter
into) the client's world of construing as much as is humanly possible.
Without that, I think laddering becomes an automatic procedure.

4. Devi makes the very important point that laddering is personal. It is
about why something is important to the client, not important to the world
at large. "Why is it important TO YOU to be reserved rather than

5. Lastly, if anyone has got this far, I would stress that laddering a la
Hinkle is very difficult. People will often go off at tangents, sometimes
as a way of stopping the questions. What one does at that point depends on
the context in which the laddering is taking place. I feel strongly that it
is a skill that can be learned and which can be enormously useful for the
learning of both interviewer and interviewee.

Hinkle produced a very powerful method for helping us understand each
other. As we have seen, there are many ways of asking "why" questions, but
I do not think that all the ways can necessarily be subsumed under the
title "laddering".

Fay Fransella