“Be curious, not judgmental” quotes Ted Lasso in response to being underestimated in one of the TV series’ most iconic scenes. Do watch it if you have not done so already. As well as being incredibly funny, the understated and seemingly incompetent Ted Lasso has so much to teach us all about how to lead and manage people in our age.
The quote came to my mind this week as I was putting together interview questions for potential new teachers. I felt that some of the questions I was coming up with were based on my own world views, and not providing enough freedom for the teachers to describe their own. Some of my questions, upon reflection, were actually thinly disguised judgments or criticisms. I should have been asking more curious questions.
I am curious what made you decide to read this blog? Maybe it was the picture? The title? Perhaps you have watched Ted Lasso and are wondering where this might go? You could have just skipped through. Either choice may not seem so different, but decisions based on judgements play a huge part in our lives because being curious helps us better understand the world and other people. Dare I say it, but I think we also make better decisions if we are curious to find out more about what is going on around us.
If you had decided, on scanning the title or the picture for this blog (or some other reason), that you were not interested in reading on, perhaps you might not have had the opportunity to benefit from some Ted Lasso wisdom today. This is simply how judgment works, and how it can close down opportunities for greater knowledge and understanding. This is not to say that judgments aren’t useful. Judgments are often necessary when we have to decide something. But more often than not, judgment keeps us from understanding something important, even necessary, about a situation or another person — even about ourselves.
Whether we like it or not, we humans are judgmental. We make judgements when we think we already know what we need to know. Sometimes there are strong feelings that go with these judgements, such as approval or disapproval. And it seems that the stronger that we feel about our judgments, the more fixed and immovable that we become. When our judgment includes strong disapproval or dislike, we become more dismissive and cynical. So, if we want to understand more about the world around us, while at the same time feeling less critical and cynical, it is important to turn our judgment into curiosity. One way to do this is to always assume positive intentions from those we interact with.
Authentic curiosity is not just about asking more questions (as they can be thinly veiled judgments or implied criticisms). Asking my son “Why didn’t you do your homework?” is a common kind of question that is more judgment than curiosity, invariably provoking a defensive response. Similarly, a teacher who says, “Your continued lateness to school just proves you are not interested in learning,” or a Head of Department who admonishes one of their teachers for not completing their marking on time, maybe missing an opportunity to be curious about what happened and why. If we were to assume positive intent, we would not be asking these questions.
By being curious, the other person feels our interest and, if there’s a problem, will be more likely to self-reflect and perhaps do it differently in the future.
Whether it is something minor like reading this blog, or more substantial like understanding a child or one of your colleagues, feeling curious before making a judgment allows us to understand the situation better and increases the chances that things will go more smoothly. After all, should you need to, there will always be time for judgment.