How Ted Lasso Models Healthy Communication and Confrontation

Ted Lasso giving a press conference

Getty Images / Ted Lasso

Ted Lasso is a ray of sunshine. He radiates positivity wherever he goes. But there’s much more to it than that. Ted Lasso is also a leader who models positive behavior—especially in the way he communicates and solves problem—helping his team to be positive as well. He models the trust and vulnerability that healthy relationships are built on, and most of the other characters tend to follow his lead.

But how realistic is the portrayal of communication—by Ted and those he influences—on the show, and how realistically do they handle confrontation? The truth is complicated, just like Ted himself.

Realism, But Accelerated

There’s a lot of healthy communication that happens in Ted Lasso. For example, consider Jamie and Roy. They’ve been classic enemies, especially in Season 1 and the beginning of Season 2, but when Jamie’s father comes to a game and ridicules his son for passing the ball instead of scoring himself, it was Roy who hugged him. This is a positive evolution in their relationship. More importantly, it’s realistic. And that’s because Roy, Jamie, and the other major characters on the show are open to this kind of evolution in their relationships.

According to Rachel Larrain Montoni, PhD, a licensed psychologist in New York City, “At some point there is space for a problem solve, for conflict resolution, or for some sort of back and forth” in all their dealings.

While this is manufactured to some degree, according to Montoni, “they portray genuine communication styles and they also reflect really effectively the way that being vulnerable and honest can build relationships.”

In other words, the communication we see on the show is realistic, but sped up in order to make it palatable to us, the audience.

A Good Leader—on TV

Deedee Cummings, a therapist in Louisville, Kentucky and author of books about mental health for kids, takes things one step further. She notes, “The reason why I think this is realistic is because I think that Ted Lasso is a good leader.” Ted manages to model the communication styles that will help his team gel and work together or, when all else fails, he becomes Led Tasso and has everyone rally against him instead of each other.

But Cummings can’t deny Ted might not be a helpful leader in real life because he’s always positive. “Misery loves company,” she points out, “and sometimes we resent people who are around us who always see the silver lining around every cloud.”

For example, when Jamie briefly went to another team, Ted complimented him when asked. But Jamie didn’t take Ted’s comments as positive. Instead he feels Ted is messing with his mind. Ted genuinely meant what he said, though, and that’s where we see why people might not like him.

“It wouldn’t be so wild for someone to say, ‘Wow, that’s some toxic positivity,’” Montoni explains. “At the very least maybe someone would call him annoying.” Or as Cummings puts it, “We love the sun until it’s too much."

So why do we love Ted as much as we do? Well, it may come down to the magic of television. First, we only have to deal with him for half an hour to an hour a week, and even if we’re bingeing the show, there are other characters and an "Off" button there to make sure we don’t overdose.

Second, “We know from pretty early on that Ted is not one dimensional,” Montoni says. “He’s having marital problems. And as the show goes on, we learn he actually has trauma history. That he has an anxiety disorder. We learned that some of his persona is actually part of a coping mechanism.”

In other words, because Ted is on TV, we know about his problems and he can be a multi-dimensional character. In real life, however, you have to get to know someone, and that’s where some people would rather not bother. But Ted is multidimensional from the beginning, which helps the audience take his side.

Everyone Communicates Differently

Everyone on the show communicates differently, and that mix keeps things interesting. Roy is direct and intimidating. Keeley is assertive. Rebecca is blunt to a fault. And Beard is taciturn but helpful. The truth of the matter, though, is that everyone expresses themselves differently—not just in general but to different people as well—and that’s neither good nor bad.

What makes Ted Lasso so refreshing is that (almost) everyone gets along on the show. Even when they have big confrontations and arguments, it gets resolved fairly easily. Emily Bartlett, a registered drama therapist in Kansas City, Kansas, notes, “There is a lot of good communication going on for sure…. [but] there’s times in the show where things get fixed really well and that doesn’t happen all the time.”

More often that not, “humans aren’t as good at figuring out how to apologize and how to make repairs,” Bartlett observes.

So Ted and his pals are living in a realistic but idealized world. They have conflicts and confrontations but for the most part they’re resolved quickly and positively. Most everyone takes Ted Lasso’s example and runs with it, allowing them to be a positive and happy bunch.

The Problem of Nate

Of course, there’s one character we haven’t mentioned: Nate Shelley, the locker room coordinator who had no chance of moving up until Ted saw his potential. Nate is passive or passive-aggressive in his communication style, as opposed to everyone else on the show who tend to be assertive or aggressive.

Because of Nate’s style of communication, he doesn’t say anything—until it’s too late. In the finale of Season 2, he calls Ted out, telling him he made him feel like the most important person in the world but then he abandoned him. But by then it’s too late to repair the damage and Nate leaves without a chance for repairs. Moreover, Nate does underhanded things, like telling Trent Crimm that Ted left the field because of a panic attack, that further ruins their relationship.

The difference between Nate and the others is that Nate doesn’t know how to deal with confrontation until it’s too late.

As Cummings puts it, he’s angry and he’s heartbroken, but while Roy or Keeley or Rebecca would say something before it’s too late, Nate tried to do more acts of service. Because Ted was dealing with other issues, he didn’t notice. So Ted doesn’t know there’s a conflict until it’s too late and Nate is done with the team—and Ted.

So Ted Lasso is certainly an example of what to do when you’re communicating and in conflict, but for many people it isn’t as easy as the show makes it look. “In the Ted Lasso universe, most people seem to be very good at handling themselves and handling when someone is different,” Bartlett observes. “They don’t just immediately write people off, and I think we’re quicker to do that in the real world. So [Ted Lasso] and his world is a good example of what we could do.”

Ted Lasso makes us feel good for a reason. It’s positive in a way that we almost never experience because we don’t have the right mix of people and we’re not willing to work out our differences. But if we can model Ted and his world and try to make some changes here and there, it could be closer than we imagine.

By Cynthia Vinney, PhD
Cynthia Vinney, PhD is an expert in media psychology and a published scholar whose work has been published in peer-reviewed psychology journals.