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Deductive reasoning: what is it and how does it apply to the workplace?

Deductive reasoning: what is it and how does it apply to the workplace?

  • What is deductive reasoning?
  • 3 Examples of deductive reasoning in the workplace
  • The benefits of using deductive reasoning in the workplace
  • Incorporating deductive reasoning into your decision-making process
  • Deductive reasoning in practice
  • How to improve your deductive reasoning skills
  • Key takeaways

Strong deductive reasoning skills aren’t a superpower, but they can make you a better employee by turning you into a first-rate decision-maker. Read on to find out how you can learn to flex your logic muscles and improve your career!

Most employers value employees who can solve problems. One of the ways they can do that is through the use of deductive reasoning. It's not just a skill for Sherlock Holmes and his ilk. It can be used by anyone in any role to facilitate logical thinking and allow them to make solid decisions at work, starting with a general objective and working towards a specific solution.

In this article, we’ll discuss the concept of deductive reasoning and how it applies to the workplace, including:

  • What is deductive reasoning? 

  • What are some examples of deductive reasoning in the workplace?

  • Benefits of using deductive reasoning

  • How to integrate deductive reasoning into your decision-making process

What is deductive reasoning?

Deductive reasoning, also known as “top-down thinking,” is when you arrive at a conclusion starting with information that is considered to be generally true (often known as a "hypothesis"). The most simple type of deductive reasoning is called a syllogism, and it states that if A=B, and B=C, then it generally can be assumed that A=C. A very simple example is that Halloween is always on October 31. Today is October 31, therefore, it must be Halloween, or, a Komodo dragon is a lizard, lizards are reptiles, therefore Komodo dragons are reptiles.

There are two other types of deductive reasoning: modus ponens and modus tollens.

  • Modus ponens: If X is known to be true, and X implies Y, then it follows that Y will be true. For example, if Sue always pays her rent on the 30th of the month, and today is November 30, then Sue will pay her rent today.

  • Modus tollens: If X implies Y, and Y is not true, then X is not true (basically, the opposite of modus ponens). This means if Sue pays her rent on the 30th of the month, and Sue doesn’t pay her rent today, then today is not the 30th.

Deductive reasoning shouldn’t be confused with inductive reasoning, which is the polar opposite of deductive reasoning. While deductive reasoning works from the top down and takes a general idea to reach a specific conclusion, inductive reasoning incorporates specific observations to reach a general conclusion.

3 Examples of deductive reasoning in the workplace

So how does this apply to the workplace? Here are three examples to illustrate the process:

  1. The manager of a sporting goods store notices that more people are buying neon-colored running shoes than other colors of running shoes. Using this data, the store manager has the website designer create a page highlighting the variety and brands of running shoes that are neon-colored and offer a 10% discount on neon running shoes. Sales continue to increase. 

  2. An employee of XYZ Company reads in the company newsletter that the employer is offering free cholesterol health screenings for all full-time employees. Since this employee works full time and has concerns about their cholesterol, the employee reasons that the cholesterol screening will be free of charge to him.

  3. ABC Company is looking to hire someone who is a certified Diagnostic Medical Sonographer. Chad has that certification. Therefore, Chad believes he is a viable candidate for that position.

The benefits of using deductive reasoning in the workplace

Employers tend to value employees who have solid decision-making skills. Using deductive reasoning means you can use logic to support your workplace decisions. And if for some reason your decisions don’t pan out, you will have solid reasoning to back up your decision.

Other benefits of using deductive reasoning include:

  • Logical thinkers are proactive thinkers and are better at anticipating problems.

  • It can help resolve a disagreement between employees by ascertaining the reason for the dispute, coming to a reasonable solution, and finding a compromise to help facilitate collaboration. 

  • It can also assist in customer service, by ascertaining the customer’s issue, finding out why they're unhappy, and coming to a logical conclusion that both supports why the customer is unhappy and what steps can be taken to increase not only this particular customer’s issue but also prevent other customers from having the same problem and being unhappy.

Expert Tip

While deductive reasoning is a valuable skill, you don’t have to write out the phrase “I have deductive reasoning skills” on your resume or cover letter. Instead, provide an instance where you used your deductive reasoning skills to solve an important problem, and what the outcome was (using quantifiable data, when possible).

Incorporating deductive reasoning into your decision-making process

For some people, this process may come naturally, but most people have to make an effort to use deductive reasoning in their decision-making, especially at work. But it can be done, and with practice, will soon become second nature. When making a decision, take the following steps to apply deductive reasoning:

  • Have a good grasp of the problem and what the issues are.

  • Assess all information that you have about the problem and ask questions to get more information, if needed.

  • Establish a hypothesis that logically explains the problem.

  • Test the soundness of your theory by determining a resolution that you think can fix the problem.

  • If your solution works, apply it to other problems, which will confirm your hypothesis.

  • Appraise your results, and repeat the steps until you reach your desired outcome.

Deductive reasoning in practice

So what might this look like in practice? Let’s think about a scenario where you, the owner of a bakery, are attempting to determine the reason for an increase in customer complaints and a decrease in sales. Your hypothesis is that since you switched to a new supplier of flour and spices, the taste of your baked goods has changed. You make a batch of cupcakes using leftover ingredients from the old supplier and a batch with the new ingredients. You perform a taste test to confirm or disprove your hypothesis. If the taste of the new cupcakes isn’t as good as the ones made with the original brand of ingredients (and you had other co-workers taste them as well), this may confirm that the new ingredients are the cause of your reduction in sales and your complaint emails from previous customers. However, if there's no difference in taste, that might suggest that there are other reasons for the problem. Check other issues in your production process to identify other potential causes, and repeat the above steps to come to find a solution to your sales slump.

Expert Tip

Be aware of confirmation bias

Confirmation bias is the tendency to believe things that confirm their preexisting beliefs and ignore anything that contradicts them. According to Psychology Today, “this error leads the individual to stop gathering information when the evidence gathered so far confirms the views or prejudices one would like to be true.” When using deductive reasoning, make sure you are being objective in your evidence gathering, and don’t discard information just because you don’t wish it to be the case or it might disprove your theory.

How to improve your deductive reasoning skills

If you want to work on improving your deductive reasoning skills, there are a few things you can do in your everyday life to accomplish that. You may actually already be using these skills without realizing it!

  • Think carefully about how you make decisions both at work and in your home life. It could be something basic, like realizing that since you made a meal with chicken, your vegetarian cousin can't eat it. Or, perhaps you think that since young people use TikTok a lot, increasing your company's advertising on that platform will increase sales in the 16-25-year-old demographic.

  • Try doing logic puzzles or practice analogy or deductive reasoning tests in your free time, which will help you pinpoint weaknesses and build your skills.

  • Talk to other people about how they make their decisions. Listening to other people’s processes will help you make sense of your own.

  • Be a life-long learner. As you increase your general knowledge, you’ll be better able to find connections between things and come to relevant and constructive conclusions.

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Key takeaways

  1. Deductive reasoning, also known as “top-down thinking,” is when you arrive at a conclusion starting with information that is considered to be generally true.

  2. Employers tend to value employees who have solid decision-making skills. It can also help you anticipate problems, resolve conflicts, and solve client or customer issues.

  3. You can strengthen your deductive reasoning skills by using logic puzzles, asking questions, and continually learning.

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