What Are You Saying?

Today is a great day for a long drive.

What does that sentence mean? Is it a fact? Or an inference or a judgment? Do we understand the difference between these three characteristics of our day to day communication? When we communicate, do we realize how these things affect our moods and our clarity of understanding? Understanding what is a fact, what is an inference and what is a judgment is easy in a classroom setting but in daily life, it demands acute attention from the person who is listening or reading. Without being aware of these distinctions, it is easy to get swayed by what people say. So please pay attention to how you encounter these qualities in everyday communication.

Let us start with some definitions

  • A fact is a piece of information that one has seen, read, heard, which is open to discovery or verification.
  • An inference is a conclusion about the unknown based on the known.
  • A judgment is an opinion that implies approval or disapproval of a person, object, situation or occurrence.

 

Example 1: Microsoft chief executive Satya Nadella has warned that embracing Artificial Intelligence without reskilling people will have an impact on jobs.

Now this sentence is not a fact because you cannot go and verify it at least now. So it is a conclusion about the unknown based on the known. So it is an inference. It may turn out that way or it may not turn out that way. It is an educated expert inference coming from Microsoft chief so it is likely that it may turn out that way in the future.

However, someone might comment – I’m afraid AI will end all traditional jobs. This is not a fact, neither an inference. It is a judgment, an opinion. If you happen to hear this statement first, what would be your reaction? Will you be scared of losing your job? If you are listening carefully and notice that the statement seems like an opinion, you might want to inquire further why that person feels that way.

Example 2: One of our most unfortunate national traits is to adore a few visible successes, and ignore the unglamorous need to improve the fundamentals.

What is this if not a judgment? Is it a fact that can be verified? Can you go and measure a national trait? You cannot. Is it an inference about anything unknown? No. It is clearly a judgment. It is very easy to get influenced by a judgment if one does not attempt to verify the underlying facts or inferences.

Let’s say we list the facts. We sent 100+ satellites in orbit in a single rocket. We still have school children in the 5th standard in a few schools who cannot add or subtract. Now both these facts are true. They can be verified. What inference can you draw from them?

All I am asking you is to listen carefully when you listen to others or read anything – whether it is a fact or an inference or a judgment.

A doctor checks that your body temperature is 102 degree Fahrenheit. This is a fact. He may arrive at an inference that you have a viral infection based on his experience. But if he says – you do not take care of your health, then it is a judgment. It is his personal opinion on the matter. There is no compulsion for you or others to accept another person’s judgment.

All this while we looked at some examples which were maybe not relevant. But now let’s come closer home.

Example 3: When asked to submit a status report on a project, we usually comment, it is going well, client is happy.

Can you see what’s wrong in this? A report was asked for but a judgment was expressed. Judgments are most of the time useless. You cannot take a decision based on a judgment. What is important is facts and the expert inferences we can draw from those facts. Would it be better to state – We brought down the number of bugs from 300 to 25 over the last 2 months and client sent an appreciation email. But he wants to get the final delivery by month end and we are short of 1 resource. All this information can be verified. Now, an inference can be drawn about the unknown from this known that it would be possible to meet the deadline if 2 resources work on the weekend. There is no need for any judgment anywhere.

Many times we do not share facts because we are afraid that other people will judge us from them. But if we realize that judgements do not follow a logic, they are personal opinions which need not be taken seriously, then we will have the freedom to share facts. It is possible one person can draw a different inference from the same data set as compared to another. It happens all the time. Seeing the symptoms, one doctor might diagnose viral infection and another bacterial infection. Further tests would clarify that.

I can give many more examples but I believe the above would have succeeded in conveying my core message about keeping to facts as much as possible, developing your ability to draw right inferences and avoiding judgments at all costs. Watch for these in your speech and in other’s speech.

Now a quick quiz. What do you think about the starting sentence of this article? Is it a fact or an inference or a judgment?

Please share your views in the comments

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