By Tom Reilly, Certified Conflict Management Coach
The show “Ted Lasso” has become a breakout hit for Apple TV+. In our current age of Peak TV, we’ve become accustomed to the lead character playing the role of anti-hero, but that is not who Ted Lasso is. When we first meet Ted, he is on a flight to England making the improbable transition from college football coach to Premiere League soccer coach, a job that he doesn’t appear qualified to do.
On the plane, Ted gets his first taste of the resistance he’s going to encounter. A British soccer fan recognizes Ted and anticipates that his inexperience will lead to disaster. “You are a legend for doing something so stupid…They are going to ****ing murder you” he tells Ted in amused tone. Ted smiles and says, “Well, I’ve heard that tune before, and here I am, still dancing.”
When Ted begins to settle into his new job, he encounters resistance from all sides. The fans and the media show their contempt openly. His players are blatantly disrespectful. The only person who appears supportive is the team’s owner, Rebecca, but we soon learn that she is secretly trying to undercut him at every turn.
Over time we learn that while everyone else is focused on the short term, Ted Lasso is playing the long game. Slowly he begins to soften the antagonism of his opponents. On the surface, it appears that his optimism and kindness are the traits that turn the tide. But those attributes alone are not enough to win over this cynical bunch. It’s actually Ted’s skillful use of conflict management techniques that begin to improve the contentious dynamics.
Here are three tips you can take from Ted on managing conflict (spoilers ahead):
1. Listen for What Matters
On the surface, the negativity that Ted encounters appears very personal. For example, when he offers his players a suggestion box, the “suggestions” that come back are full of insults and taunts. Team captain Roy Kent’s flippantly suggests that his new American coach choke on a Big Mac. Ted doesn’t get defensive or angry because he doesn’t take these comments personally.
In the classic book “The Four Agreements: A Practical Guide to Personal Freedom”, Don Miguel Ruiz explains that each of us can find freedom by recognizing that everyone lives within their own unique experience. He writes:
Even when a situation seems so personal, even if others insult you directly, it has nothing to do with you. What they say, what they do, and the opinions they give are according to the agreements they have in their own minds.””
Since Ted doesn’t take the insults personally, he’s able to focus his attention on the one complaint that has a constructive solution. Buried among the jibes is a complaint about water pressure in the showers. When Ted quietly fixes the shower pressure, it is the first step toward Ted earning the team’s respect.
2. Know When (and When Not) to Intervene
Ted knows when it’s helpful to intervene in other people’s disputes, and when it’s counterproductive. Team captain Roy is continually aggravated by self- centered star player, Jamie. The conflict between the two is heightened when Jamie and his crew bully the team’s equipment manager. Roy tells Ted about the bullying incident, expecting him to intervene, but he refuses. Ted’s true objective is to inspire Roy to become a leader in the locker room as a first step toward repairing the divisions on the team. That’s exactly what happens shortly thereafter when Roy confronts Jamie on his bullying.
But a good leader also knows when it’s time to facilitate a resolution. When Roy and Jamie continue to butt heads, Ted decides to trick them into sitting at the same table together at a fundraiser (“I ‘Parent Trapped y’all’”). Ted reminds them that they don’t have to be great friends to have mutual respect. He is careful to open the lines of communication without forcing an outcome. Despite the fact he personally favors Roy, he avoids taking sides in their interpersonal dispute. As a result, Roy and Jamie open dialogue and begin to chip away at their animosity throughout the evening.
3. Be Curious, not Judgmental
The season’s most insightful moment comes when Ted engages with the season’s villain and former owner of the club, Rupert. When Ted endures enough of Rupert’s bad behavior at a local pub, he challenges Rupert to a high stakes game of darts. While you immediately suspect that Ted is hustling Rupert (and you’d be right), it’s the reason he’s able to do so that is most satisfying.
As Ted is about to win the game, he reveals how his values contrast with Rupert’s. Ted explains that people have underestimated him throughout his life, and he hadn’t been able to understand it. Then one day he came across a Walt Whitman quote: “Be curious, not judgmental”.
He tells Rupert that among the many people who dismissed him throughout his life, not a single one was curious.
“They thought they had everything figured out, so they judged everything, and everyone. If they were curious, they would have asked questions, like “Have you played a lot of darts, Ted?” To which I would have answered, “Yes, sir”.”
Ted then proceeds to throw the dart that wins the game.
The fact that all of Ted Lasso’s contentious relationships improve throughout the season has a lot to do with his curiosity. He seeks out lunch with Jamie’s girlfriend to learn about what motivates him. He sets aside time each morning to bring freshly baked biscuits to Rebecca so that he can get to know her better. And he takes a genuine interest in the lives of people he meets throughout the city who are skeptical of him.
The character of Ted Lasso, much like the show itself, has more depth than a first impression would suggest. But Ted wasn’t born with all the answers. He became better at managing conflict through insight and practice. If you think you might like to improve the way you respond to conflict, schedule a free 30 minute call with me by clicking the “Scheduling” tab.