Using Laddering in Interviews: an Insight from Personal Construct Psychology

I thought I would share a very simple technique called ‘laddering’. I started to use this way back when I was doing my PhD, and it comes from Personal Construct Psychology (from George A Kelly). Initially the technique of laddering was introduced by Fay Fransella and Don Bannister in their book A Manual for Repertory Grid Technique, 1977 Academic Press, and has been developed from there. It’s really common sense, but will helps to further interrogate answers to initial questions.

You simply ask the question Why? and you ask the question How?. Why? gets you to the strategic level because this asks for a justification of what your interviewees say they are doing or what the situation is in their organization. You may have to ask this in various ways until you ascend the ladder so far that you are satisfied you have reached the top and you can’t get any further – you have been given a full strategic justification of why something is the way it is in an organization. Now you can start to descend the ladder, right down to the behavioural level so you are satisfied you can’t descent any further (this is the realm of what people actually do and the sort of skills they need to do it). Just ask them How? How do they manage to do the things in their organization that they have just described to you? And, eventually, by keep asking How? in different ways (if you simply keep saying ‘How?’ after they answer each question they are going to end up pretty miffed with you – so try to be inventive) you will get down to the nuts and bolts of their operations, and the skills sets they have and need.

Even if you simply go into an interview with these two questions in the back of your mind, using them to probe further when the interviewee gives you an initial answer, the quality of data you come out with will be much improved.

I’ve always believed that Personal Construct Psychology could be used in cross-cultural management research, but I’ve not seen much evidence of it. Nor have I taken the opportunity to pursue this myself. If you are using PCP in any way in your research, please share this..

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