May 30, 2024

Knower/Judger vs. Learner/Researcher

Over the years, I’ve used the phrase “Knower/Judger” (or K/J) to describe a classification of behaviors rooted in, and learned from, our history and traditions. I’ve also used the phrase Learner/Researcher (or L/R) to describe us when we set judgement aside and open learned narratives (knowledge) to other interpretations. You can click on either of those phrases above to see deeper definitions.

I want to devote some space here to put other markers on these behavior modes to help you understand the difference and possible effects they can have on developing good, clear communications with folks.

I suspect we’ve all seen the picture of the devil on one shoulder and the angel on the other, simultaneously tempting the poor subject to make a decision—one of which might not serve our hero well. While not always the devil, the K/J can be seen as the historical influence that keeps us from choosing the angel. The devil is that self-talk that says “Go ahead and eat that second dessert—we’re on vacation.” The angel in that situation understands how you’ll feel when you step on the scale Monday morning. They truly can do battle in our brains.

Mary Lore, in her book Managing Thought, suggests that we improve our lot in life when we manage our brains (L/R) as opposed to letting it manage us (K/J). If we do what we’ve always done, then we’re allowing our brain’s programming to execute our behaviors. It may appear to us (or we rationalize) that we are deciding to do what we’ve always done, but she argues that there’s really little “decision” in it; rather, our brains have developed behavioral shortcuts to make it easier to get through all our day-to-day situations. In other words, we actually made that very decision 35 or 40 (or more!) years ago when we were younger and constructing our “rules of life.”

Think about it. You’ve probably taken a behavior inventory (DISC, Meyers-Briggs, etc.) sometime in your life. What did it tell you? It tells us what behaviors to expect in certain situations. It literally describes how we’re wired and what we’ll do and how we’ll act as a member of a team. How we answer those questions is a direct photocopy of the decisions we made a long time ago about how life works and how we fit in it that have become how we present ourselves in public. And before you try to play with the answers, all of the professional assessments have statistical ways to tell if you’re playing with the answers… so don’t bother!

I’ve also described the K/J as our “role,” that which we have learned and more or less successfully executed. The L/R, then, is our “soul.” That’s the part that yearns for things to be better or different in some way and yet says we can’t because then our K/J would be violated.

Think about this in family situations. A middle child, for example, has a complex role in most family hierarchies. He can be molded to do his older sibling’s bidding while being required to help parent his younger sibling. And while this may not be the case for every middle child, I’m comfortable suggesting that the “roles” are still sorted out and well defined among siblings and parents in families. And each player has a set of rules for their role. It might be as strong as a “pecking order” or more subtle than that, but rules are learned and internalized. And they affect how we operate outside the family structure. If I’ve learned I must be aggressive to get what I want when I’m a 5-year-old, and it works for me, then there’s a good chance I’ll be classified as “dominant” later on in life. The classifications are endless, but that’s how we develop who we’re seen to be. I’ve now reached middle age (loosely defined!) and, for example, I find my aggressive, hurried, dominant exterior is stifling my ability to get my team on board or crawl up the corporate ladder. My K/J approach could help, of course. Or my K/J’s tendency toward conflict avoidance could make me a judgmental compliant (think “Karen”?). Whatever the case, here’s the point:

If you see some of your repetitive behaviors not working for you or allowing you to get what you want, try seeking out your L/R and taking in new data—even if it contradicts your usual role or devil or takes back your brain’s usual behavior management. I’ve found it to be the only way to avoid picking up that second dessert. The fight is real… and worth it.



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