Re: laddering

Devi Jankowicz (
Wed, 21 Apr 1999 21:54:07 +0000

Fay Fransella reminds us of some important points relating to laddering.
Her first one re-emphasises the essential idea of bipolarity, which
applies _wherever_, up or down the ladder, the mutual negotiation of
meanings between interviewer and interviewee may be situated.

It also makes possible one very handy approach within the laddering
procedure which
a) helps you to prompt the interviewee if s/he's "stuck" at a particular
point in finding an answer to your question "Why, for you, is 'this end
of the construct' preferred?" and
b) assists you in moving the discussion "upwards", towards more
superordinate constructs.

And that is to shift your "why" question to the opposite pole of the
construct, which, you'll find, will get things moving again "up" the

For example,

"Trustworthy - Undependable" when talking about people in general, having
started off at the subordinate construct, as it might be,
"Poor timekeeper - Good timekeeper" offered by a supervisor about the
staff in his/her office.

In the attempt to discover what superordinate constructs this supervisor
might have, you might find yourselves getting stuck... "why, for me, is
the trustwothiness of a person important?... er, werl, obvious innit?...
I mean...

At which point, you may be able to restart the progression upwards by
asking the "why" question about the opposite end of the construct:

"... well, what would the world be like for you if the people you worked
with were undependable?"

So: you need to have the implicit pole available in order to switch to it
in this way; and notice the wording: it seems more natural, in most
cases, in talking about an unpreferred negative pole, to distance the
person from him/her own circumstances: by choosing the "what would the
department / the company / the industry / the country / the world"
the level of generality being chosen to suit the circumstances, but
serving to move the realm of discourse upwards, nearer to the core
constructs you're searching for.

At the next step, you'd probably want to revert to the explicit pole
again for the next step in the laddering sequence.

The choice, BTW, of "department / company / industry /" etc. makes a
difference. Sometimes you want to obtain the intervening steps, and not
arrive at the core construct too quickly.
I think. Just a feeling on my part that a too rapid arrival can lead to
needless "circlings round at the same level of abstraction" which a more
stepwise trip up the ladder would have prevented, sicne it would have
given the interviewee time to think through the implicational connections
in greater detail.

Kind regards,


>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.