Conflicted Thinking:CSI Grissom (Inductive) vs. CSI Eckley (Deductive)

What happens in the workplace when people think differently? Sometimes that conflict brings great results and sometimes failure – as in resistance. The more aware we are of how our colleagues, clients, and other contacts think, the better we are prepared to manage the conflict to the best outcome.

The two methods of thinking or reasoning are shown in this example from the CBS hit television show CSI: Crime Scene Investigation. Two characters – CSI Gil Grissom and CSI Conrad Eckley – are usually in conflict on a great many levels. In one episode, Grissom (the star character of the show) reviews a case originally investigated by Eckley. Grissom always suppresses his ‘gut feel’ or intuition in favour of the evidence. In other words he doesn’t jump to conclusions. His bottom up approach is more inductive than deductive. When Grissom starts reviewing the old case he sees that Eckley quickly decided who was guilty and only collected the evidence that proved that conclusion – a more deductive approach. While Eckley closed the file in short order he got the wrong guy. Grissom worked from observation up to the theory of guilt. If you want to see both ways of thinking used by one character while others characters do the same, resulting in a bizarre dynamic of conflict and ultimate resolution, watch the medical drama HOUSE from Fox Broadcasting.

William Trochim has a take on the difference that positions deductive as top down and inductive as bottom up. However, he characterises deductive as “more general to more specific” and inductive as “moving from specific observations to broader generalizations and theories.”

In my experience I would say that deductive types start with a specific conclusion and then build a case of proof to support that objective. Business and organizational types display deductive thinking a lot, even though they participate in many interactions that are inductive. It could well be argued that they have already used inductive thinking to reach that conclusions and then frame the case in a deductive structure. Fair enough. I think this just shows that there is little ‘pure’ deductive or inductive thinking.

Wearing my crisis consultant ‘hat’, I have been both praised and accused of being a ‘top-down thinker.’ (As long as the client gets a good result I don’t care what they call me.)

However, different preferred thinking models can bring conflict. An interesting discussion of this was posted by Antoine Henry de Frahan in a post titled Deductive-Inductive Strategy on his Legal Management blog and it reminded me of a few client/consultant interactions that I have had in the past.

As a communication coach, I saw this conflict manifest in the impression that one executive left with his peers and superiors. He was seen as detached, cool, even arrogant, although with his employees he was seen as supportive and a very good leader – because he interacted with them differently. Working this through together, we analyzed why this poor impression was left with one group and not with another. We determined that his propensity to immediately display a deductive thinking structure in his communications with his peers and superiors was based on an unconscious assumption on his part: “I get it and I assume you do too; so let’s move this discussion along.” The problem, we concluded, was that those with whom he interacted were not always at the same place in their thinking, or preferred an inductive style. He is now taking that into consideration when he interacts with his different audiences. It will slow things down a little or a lot, but the impression and co-operation should lead to the best result in the end.

Wearing another hat – that of media trainer – I see this conflict in our thinking versus that of the media. I want my business/organizational trainees to build a story to tell, with sufficient proof to sustain that story. I would characterize that as deductive – top down. The media want to find a story by exploration through questions – bottom up. This often leads them to ask questions that might be beyond the scope of the story we want to tell. We prepare for that and try to ensure that we provide enough interesting, fresh information in support of our story that we meet the needs of the reporter too, while maintaining our story’s focus.

I can certainly understand the reporter’s resistance to any restriction on the scope of discussion. After all, brain research is showing us that any attempt at influence (a restriction of choice/freedom) brings automatic and often unconscious resistance. But we also know that a well-made case with sufficient proof to withstand any objections (resistance) works. So, we shouldn’t be dissuaded because the reporter is using a different thought or reasoning structure. It does, however, require that we have a compelling, ‘sticky’ story that will meet their needs.

A word about ‘investigative’ media. I view them as the Conrad Eckleys of this world – deductive to a fault. They have the guilty party in their sights, they then set about to confirm it. Sometimes their targets deserve their fate, other times not. And yes, sometimes non-investigative reporters use this approach, just as some investigative reporters do build from the bottom up. But when an investigative reporter calls, our preparation is similar even though our expectations will change.

So, what do we do about the conflict in thinking? The most significant danger, in my view, is that it triggers resistance from others. If we know our style and the preferred style or likely position of the other party, we can accommodate their needs and perhaps reduce their resistance. Is there one method that is better than the other? No. Each has its upside and downside. The key is to be conscious of them both, how they work and where they can be best applied.

Copyright 2007 Patrick McGee


A Utility Executive responds by email:

Pat, good points. Actually, I think we save time and get better results by drawing others into a discussion, leading to a mutually agreed upon conclusion. The thing is, with peers, even if I think I’ve got the answer, if they don’t agree at that moment, we aren’t moving forward until they “get it”. More often than not, my conclusion is “half right” – and the mutually agreed upon solutions are almost always much richer than my own conclusions. Tough lesson – but learning how to listen to others is a skill that few have. That, and a quick deductive mind, is very powerful. Moves you ahead in a corp culture too, because people appreciate it when their opinions are valued. 


From an Advertizing Creative Director by email:

Very good, Pat. It’s so prevalent. Now you’ve given me a vocabulary to
describe it. Thanks.

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