55M - People Advisory Business

Be Curious

Posted by Jono on Thursday, March 10, 2022

Fostering productive disagreement as a norm has never been more important with topics such as #MeToo, Environmentalism, LGBTIQ+ issues, even our own democracy all requiring engaged, informed respectful discussions and debate.  Unfortunately, with the incessant rise of virtue signalling and instant, often public, judgements of ‘others’ many are actively avoiding meaningful discussions.  This is disastrous for us as a society, but also for the wellbeing and performance of our organisations and institutions. Could a focus on curiosity help?

This article covers

  • How Ted Lasso uses Curiosity 
  • How curiosity and productive agreement can strengthen society and our organisations.
  • How to be curious about yourself, your own bias and personal values 
  • How to be curious about disagreements
  • How to improve your ability to have productive disagreements

During the summer break, I finally had the opportunity to finish watching the wonderful television series Ted Lasso. For those who haven't seen it, the series tell the story of Ted, an American football coach who is hired to coach an English soccer team despite having no previous soccer experience. There is plenty of comedy in the 'fish out of water' elements of the show, but there is also much substance in the way Ted goes about building his team and winning over those around him. 

One episode stuck with me long after I finished watching it. In that episode (season 1, episode 8) Ted challenges Rupert, who is his boss’s ex-husband, to a game of darts in the local pub. Rupert is the former owner of the club who lost ownership to Rebecca as part of their divorce settlement. He is a deeply unpleasant character who does his best to undermine and belittle Rebecca at every turn. The deal is that if Rupert wins, he can pick the starting line-up for the last two games of the season, but if Ted wins, Rupert must stay away from the club. With his usual arrogance, Rupert accepts and pulls his personal pack of darts from his pocket, and for a while it appears that he has Ted's measure.

After asking the pub's owner what he needs to win - two triple 20s and a bullseye - Ted informs Rupert that he has been underestimated his entire life, and that it bothered him until he saw a Walt Whitman quote - 'Be curious, not judgmental'. It made him realise that the people underestimating and belittling him were not curious, but instead were judging everyone and everything. He points out that if they were curious, they would have asked questions - such as, 'have you played a lot of darts, Ted?'. Of course, the answer to that question is yes, and Ted proceeds to hit two triple 20s and a bullseye to win the challenge.

Watch the 4 minute dart scene 

What struck me about this particular episode is the lessons that can be drawn from the fictional Ted. Much has been said about the increasing tendency in our society towards division - the 'us and them' mentality and the demonisation of the 'other', that so often dominates social media and popular debate. We see broad division based on race, ethnicity, religion, and political allegiance, as well as with respect to more discrete issues such as attitudes to COVID vaccination and the place of coal in our future. These divisions can manifest in disruptive and damaging ways within organisations and in society more generally. Employees who hold a view that differs from most of their colleagues or their manager may feel obliged to hide their true opinions fearing how they will be perceived or that their prospects might be damaged. The result is that the diversity that is championed and sought after - diversity of experience, diversity of background and diversity of thought - is undermined. 

By way of example, I suspect that an employee in a large professional services organisation in one of our large cities would think very carefully before openly stating that in their opinion, Donald Trump was a good president of the United States. The expression of such a view may well leave them open to instant judgment and even ridicule. If we were encouraged to resist that tendency to be judgmental, and instead approach differing views from a position of curiosity, we could not only encourage colleagues to bring their genuine selves to work but we might also gain greater understanding of alternative points of view to our own. Surely it is better - for us, for our own education and for those with whom we disagree - to understand the other rather than to denigrate and dismiss it. 

Asking the right questions, such as 'why' and 'tell me more', can help us to understand what makes others tick, and might also educate us on topics we previously knew little about.

A culture of curiosity and openness begins with an organisation's leaders. Of course, we cannot, and should not, seek to sway our people from their steadfast views on particular social, economic, or political issues. We can, however, create an environment in which the exploration of alternative views is the norm. Explaining the basis for decisions made and strategies to be adopted, along with thoughtful discussion of the alternatives considered and not adopted, demonstrates the importance of 'why'.

At 55M we work with individuals, teams, and organisations to be curious and channel their inner Ted Lasso.  We firmly believe that personal development is a team sport and that curiosity - about ourselves and others - is crucial.

Below are some considerations to help you be more curious,

Be Curious about yourself. 

Where and when might you individually demonstrate bias? What triggers your bias? Being aware of the answers to these questions can help us be less judgemental during our interactions with others.  

There are three areas to help you and others be curious and not judgemental:

  1. Determine your personal identity, or the topics about which you might hold biases.
  2. Are you, your team and or peers presenting opinion as facts?  Too often, opinion is presented as fact, which prevents, even inhibits meaningful debate.
  3. Be curious about your intention / experience gap. How are others experiencing your actions? Is their perception of you aligned to your intent?

There are numerous tools that can help you identify your personal identity and the topics where you might be biased and or triggered if your personal values and or biases are crossed. [1]

It might also help to ask a colleague, close friend or family member to identify what, in their eyes, you are passionate about.  How do they perceive your actions? What triggers you? (Siblings are particularly good at knowing this.)

Reflecting on your own attitudes and biases will assist you to consider when you might fall into the trap of being judgemental.  With a heightened level of self-awareness, you provide yourself and those with whom you are engaging the opportunity to have productive disagreements.

Be Curious about disagreement 

If you notice disagreement of opinion, feel triggered yourself or sense that your biases are in play, be curious by:

  • pausing, taking a breath and being clear on the ideal outcome that you seek from the situation at hand;
  • being careful with your language;
  • reflecting and considering why you or another has reacted in the way they have; 
  • playing back what you have heard and how you have interpreted their words and behaviours, and asking questions. Be curious about the other person’s intent and own experience.  

Focus on improving the experience of others  

The intention of increasing you and your team’s curiosity is to be more conscious of and to share your perspectives, thoughts, and observations, while at the same time seeking to understand what others are observing, thinking, and feeling.  By being observant and then being inquisitive about how you perceive their reactions and/or behaviours, you have the opportunity to align on your respective intents.  

Don’t forget to take the time to personally reflect and consider how you might better behave and or communicate differently to improve the impact and the experiences you create for those you are engaging with.

Remember no one can tell another how to think, though we can all have a big impact on the experiences others have with us.  Importantly, productive disagreement is not the same as ‘speaking my mind’ or ‘being honest’. The focus must remain on creating a positive experience for others, even if there are differences of views.    

With the creation of positive experiences, focus on the agreed facts and debate them robustly. 

Aligning Mental Models 

It is important to align the ‘mental models’, of all team members and stakeholders on what productive agreement does and does not look like within your context.

Remind each other that as you start engaging in these types of conversations, particularly for the first time, it will likely feel clunky and uncomfortable.  This is ok, and normal, but through practice you will all improve.  


In naming what you are doing, that being practice, you signal that you’re experimenting, trying something on and/or working at improving – trying hard at something to get better at it.  We’re creating conditions in which we reduce the pressure to demonstrate expertise, conditions that will better allow you to be curious, experiment, gather feedback, and have productive disagreements.

At a time of upheaval in our world, it is more important than ever to have thoughtful and respectful conversations, and not to avoid the difficult discussions that might make us uncomfortable.

At 55M we work with individuals, teams and organisations to be curious, constructive and create environments where you are more able to align intent with how others experience your contributions.   

[1] Take the Harvard Implicit Association Test (IAT), to help you better understand your attitudes and beliefs of societal constructs, or a tool such as Hogans MVPI to better understand your Values Motives and Preferences.

Share this article to your network: 
Copyright © 2022 55M -
Privacy Policy
Forms on this site are protected by reCAPTCHA.

Contact Us