Consent does not begin in the bedroom, it starts with how we listen, how we speak and how we live & work. Our personal culture of conversation can tell us a lot about how we respect and ask for consent. Consent is more than a question, more than a statement of boundaries: it is the entire terrain of communication. Listening is the foundation of how we communicate. Sometimes, we can fall into a pattern where conversation flows in a manner that suggests that neither party is listening. Instead of simply learning how to ask for consent, I think it’s worth being mindful of how we listen for it.
The 3 checks of consent:
The Interruption Check
If you notice that your conversations are filled with “Yeah, but…” or “Me too, and…” you are interrupting. If you are anxious to respond before the other person finishes speaking, you are interrupting. To notice when someone states their boundaries, you need to genuinely hear what they say. There needs to be space between where their thoughts end, and yours begin. Interrupting indicates that you are listening to respond, rather than to understand. You can only respect someone’s boundaries if you understand what the other person has said about them. When in doubt, take a moment to breathe in, then out, before saying anything in any conversation.
The Constant Chatter Check
Uncomfortable silence is called so for a reason. Sometimes, light conversation can be exactly what is needed, but sometimes it is not. Habitually filling space by chatting is a sign that you are preoccupied with your own experience. In an attempt to create comfort for yourself, you may be missing some non-verbal signals from others. Silence is not consent for conversation. Look for other clues that may indicate what type of conversation the other person is looking for. Notice your breathing when you experience an uncomfortable silence. If you can slow your breathing, you are more likely to be able to “read the room”.
The Dismissive Check
If you think you know what someone else is thinking, you are already not listening. By making assumptions in a conversation, you put on metaphorical earmuffs. This can lead you to view the other person’s statement as irrelevant, unimportant or incorrect. By dismissing, undervaluing or correcting someone’s statements, you are effectively shutting down a conversation. You may be missing what they are trying to communicate. If you choose to assume and dismiss, you’ve lost the opportunity to listen. Dive in when your impulse is to dismiss.
The way we converse may seem innocuous at first, but the downstream impact of our daily habits can end up leading us away from meaningful interactions. Our culture of conversation determines how we understand consent. Self-awareness consent checks are meant to show us our habits from the other person’s perspective. Make listening the foundation of your conversations, and you will gain more than you expected.