Deductive, Inductive and Abductive Reasoning in the Workplace
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Deductive reasoning is referred to as ‘top-down thinking’.
It is a type of logical thinking that begins with a general idea and evolves to a more specific conclusion.
'If/then' statements are popular in deductive reasoning; for example, 'If D=E, then H=K'.
Deductive reasoning is effective in the workplace because it helps solve problems and assists decision making.
The deductive reasoning process is as follows:
- Identify and confirm the issue, including what is at stake
- Assess the data relating to the issue
- Hypothesize the reasons for the issue
- Test the hypothesis
- Evaluate the results
- Repeat until an appropriate solution works
Employers value employees with deductive-reasoning skills as this approach uses logic to solve a problem.
Even if the first few solutions don't work, you can explain to your employer the logic behind your actions.
Deductive reasoning also implies that you are a proactive, decisive employee. You will do what it takes to resolve an issue.
Employers look for managers who use logic to add value to their organization.
Deductive reasoning helps with:
Problem-solving – As deductive reasoning is based on facts and logic, there is less guesswork involved. It reduces uncertainty and errors.
Teamwork – Working in a team often comes with issues, usually between colleagues, with morale or completing the task. As someone who uses deductive reasoning, you can identify where the problem lies and how best to resolve it. In a managerial role, you can use this logical reasoning to allocate tasks and arrange schedules to achieve the best results.
Customer service – Regardless of your industry, there will be customers, clients or patients. Deductive reasoning allows you to solve their problems quickly and effectively. The quicker you can work through a problem, the more value you'll add to the workplace.
Complaints were up by 2% in July. While looking through the complaints report, you see that most of the complaints were about the time it took to return a phone call.
You hypothesize that if you return calls quicker, customers will be happier and your organization will receive fewer complaints.
To conclude, more people need to be hired to reduce wait times.
A marketing manager notices their team is over budget on one of their projects. After analyzing the figures, they see that most of the budget is assigned to Instagram promotion. While the posts receive clicks, they don't generate as many sales as the email campaigns.
The marketing manager decides to reduce the amount of money assigned to Instagram promotion and to focus on building the email contact list.
At the three-month review, the team stays within the budget and sales increase by 4%.
Inductive reasoning is the opposite of deductive reasoning as it uses a bottom-up process instead. It is also referred to as ‘cause-and-effect reasoning’.
With this type of reasoning, the hypothesis is more of a generalization. There isn't a guarantee that the outcome is accurate.
A general example of inductive reasoning is:
'Where I work, all senior staff members have degrees. Therefore, to become a senior staff member, I need to have a degree'.
There is a possibility that you do need a degree to be a manager, or it could just be a coincidence.
The inductive reasoning process is:
- Observe a situation, trend or pattern
- Develop your theory or hypothesis
- Make your induction
Inductive reasoning is a demonstration of your soft skills. It helps with:
Emotional intelligence – As you notice patterns, habits and trends, you have a greater awareness of when someone is troubled by something. As a manager, this allows you to connect with and understand your team. Showing emotional intelligence promotes a more productive working environment.
Memory – Inductive reasoning is believed to be connected to your ability to recall details and events. Having the ability to correctly remember events and their outcome may stop you from making the same mistakes. Mistakes avoided is money saved.
Projection forecasting – Deciding the future based on the information you currently have is a desirable feature of inductive reasoning. For an employee, this could be making financial predictions or decisions that lead to group success.
An HR officer analyzes the organization's most successful and high-performing PR managers. She finds that they all graduated with communication degrees and completed a six-month internship during their education.
As a result, she decides to focus future recruitment on candidates who have both attributes.
A manager notices that those employees with children produce higher quality work when they work flexible hours. The manager creates an office policy of working together to develop goals but allows employees to decide when they complete the work.
Abductive reasoning analyzes observations or information that may not be complete.
It is common in medical professions, where doctors try to diagnose patients using the symptoms they see before them.
The process is:
- Observe a pattern
- Guess a hypothesis
- Test the outcome
Though there is more freedom with this type of reasoning, it is less accurate. You may need several attempts before the correct solution presents itself.
As abductive reasoning is mostly guesswork, there isn't usually a place for it in an organization.
You see your manager talking to a CEO. They are both holding a lot of documents and look concerned.
You conclude that the conversation was not about anything good, and an announcement of bad news is imminent.
The reality is, you have no idea what they were talking about, and it may just be a coincidence that they are both carrying documents.
All three types of reasoning lead to conclusions. The difference between them is in the accuracy of those conclusions.
Deductive reasoning is highly accurate but requires time and data to form hypotheses.
Inductive reasoning has more freedom and relies on patterns or trends rather than solid data. The conclusions may not always be accurate.
Abductive reasoning is essentially assuming something. The only work environments where it is an advantage are in medicine and science.
As a scientist or medical professional, you will need the ability to use all three methods:
- Abductive for making initial assessments with patients or samples
- Inductive for predicting how a patient or specimen might react
- Deductive for drawing concrete conclusions
We often use all three types to a certain extent without realizing it.
Employers look for candidates who demonstrate both types of critical thinking:
Deductive reasoning shows an employer you are someone who makes informed decisions.
Inductive reasoning shows you are a quick thinker and have attention to detail.
They are both necessary skills in the workplace.
You may naturally be more inclined to one type of critical thinking than the other. Still, there are exercises you can do to improve both.
Be curious and ask questions – To make some decisions, you need to remove all emotion. Develop the habit of asking more questions so you can gather more data. Whether it is your mother or manager, don't accept everything they say at face value.
Carefully observe – No more half-listening to information. Pay attention to what you are being told or what you see and start drawing your own conclusions. You don't need to share these with your colleagues, but start wondering how your manager made that decision. Would you do it differently? Why?
Break things down – Can the problem be broken into smaller parts to make it easier to solve?
Think out loud – Ask your manager or a colleague if you can run through some scenarios with them. Perhaps they will ask the questions you didn't think of.
Improve your knowledge – Read more varied types of writing. Pay attention to the news and other media outlets. Listen to podcasts. Keep up with your industry trends.
Play with puzzles – Whether crosswords, sudoku, word searches or brain-game apps, solving puzzles improves your focus and thinking capabilities. Dedicate 30 minutes per day to solving a puzzle and try to do a different type of puzzle each time.
Be aware of your surroundings – Inductive reasoning uses patterns and trends, so start noticing the world around you. What are your team's habits and routines? What influences your manager's mood? Learn to spot the smaller details around you; when do the trees start changing color? How do your colleagues interact with each other? What are the names of the baristas at your local coffee shop?
Improve your memory – Invest in brain-game apps that focus on memory retention. Write things down and test yourself later to see what you remembered.
Learn other perspectives – Emotional intelligence plays a vital role in inductive reasoning. Learn about different cultures, religions and nationalities. Start to think about why they might be hurt or excited about a situation or statement.
Start predicting outcomes – When you begin to recognize patterns, take it a step further and see if you can forecast the outcome. Keep a record of your observations and predictions.
While it may be tempting to write the words ‘deductive and inductive reasoning’ on your resume, the employer wants actual examples. Your resume only has so much space, but anyone can write that they have a skill and not possess it.
Your cover letter allows you to expand on some experiences. Use a paragraph to describe an occasion when you used inductive or deductive reasoning.
Use the STAR method to explain the situation:
- S – Situation. What was your role? Where were you working?
- T – Task. A very brief indication of the task
- A – Actions taken and how you came to them
- R – Results
A project I led had a focus demographic of university students. I assumed that all university students use social media. Therefore the bulk of the campaign budget went to social media promotion. By the end of the project, Instagram followers increased by 42% and Facebook engagement was up 24%. It resulted in a 7% increase in sales.
During your interview, use the same technique to expand on your examples.
Your recruiter will be impressed not only by your reasoning skills but also by how well you explain yourself.
There is a lot of information available regarding the importance of deductive, inductive and abductive thinking. There are also different opinions about which is more important.
Abductive is mostly speculative; therefore, it is not regarded as essential for most industries.
Your employer may have a preference for one particular type, depending on their thinking and understanding.
All reasoning skills can be improved with daily tasks such as paying more attention to things and completing games or puzzles.
You more than likely demonstrate all three types of reasoning every day without realizing it. Next time you make a decision or draw a conclusion, take a minute to assess which technique you used.
Use the STAR technique to explain your examples to potential employees.