Laddering

Laddering is an interviewing technique designed to trace the underlying attitudes, feelings and emotions about a subject. It begins with a simple question, followed repeatedly with questions probing the response. For example:

 

Moderator:

“Why don't you want to have a baby?”

Respondent:

“Because I don't have the time to look after a baby.”

Moderator :

“Why don't you have the time to look after a baby?”

Respondent:

“I guess I could take some time off work and hire a maid ... but I really don't want to do that.”

Moderator :

“Why not?”

Respondent:

“My mother was always there for me when I was young … and if I have a child, I want to be there for her whenever she needs me. That’s important especially in today’s world.”

Moderator :

“Why is it so important?”

Respondent:

“It’s so competitive for children these days!”

Moderator :

“Why does it bother you so much?”

Respondent:

“I am really scared. There is so much pressure on children these days and I am afraid my baby, when she grows up will not be able to cope. I am afraid I too won't be able to help her ... my nephew’s primary school arithmetic is so difficult!”

 

Laddering can take the respondent from the functional to the emotional plane. It can help peel off the outer objective layers and delve deeper into the subjective truth — the emotions and the values that are driving behaviours. The previous example for instance, reveals the respondent’s anxiety of raising a child in a highly competitive world.

The technique helps to get to the crux of an issue or problem. It can however be intrusive and stressful for the respondent, and should therefore be sparingly used and administered with care. 

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