Chapter 1 - Consent Subchapter: Stop Ask Listen

Challenging assumptions

Key points

  • Many relationship conflicts come from making assumptions about each other.
  • Assumptions can be based on past experience with someone, or they can be generalisations about social groups.
  • Stop Ask Listen helps us test our assumptions.

 

Assumptions can be a problem

Animation of a figure looking with glasses and seeing another figure come into focus, who turns into a gorilla.

 

Stop Ask Listen is ultimately about seeing another person for who they are. But why do we need to make such a big deal out of this?

The more time you spend in close relationships, the more you notice how often we make assumptions about other people.

Assumptions aren’t necessarily bad. They can be convenient and helpful—so long as they accurately reflect the other person. But when our assumptions are wrong, they prevent us seeing the other person clearly, and then we misjudge decisions and then we get into conflict.

 

Where do our assumptions come from?

Life is hard. There are so many decisions to make, different people to interact with and complex situations to navigate: it’s exhausting.

Our brains look for patterns in our personal experience of the world to help guide our behaviour automatically without having to evaluate every single tiny detail to work out what to do in a situation.

Some of our assumptions are based on past experience with another person. These can be very specific:

  • “Emily will have eggs for breakfast again.”
  • “Hazel is going to be super competitive at the scavenger hunt.”
  • “Chris won’t want to dance to R&B.”

 

But other assumptions are generalisations based on other relationships we’ve had, or on messages we’ve absorbed from our culture and outer world.

  • “Girls like tall guys with lots of money.”
  • “Guys are only interested in sex.”
  • “If I text back too quickly, they’ll think I’m desperate.”

 

This second group of assumptions are bigger, applying a very general rule to the person in front of us. They’re less likely to be accurate and make it more likely we’ll misread the other person.

Even worse, these assumptions don’t just make us clumsy and mistaken with other people, they can actually lead us to police the way another person behaves, trying to make them conform to our expectations.

For instance: “Jess is a girl, so she won’t want to play AFL.”

That’s an assumption that might be policed by someone saying: “Jess, don’t sign up for AFL. You’re a girl. That’s a boys’ sport. You don’t want people to think you’re a boy.”

If Jess actually wanted to play AFL, we haven’t done her any favours by assuming she didn’t and pushing her into something else.

 

Stop Ask Listen tests our assumptions

Our assumptions are our personal theory of how the world works. “If I give Judes flowers, she’ll be happy.”

Stop Ask Listen is a way of testing this theory to make sure it holds up.

  • Stop puts the brakes on and says, “Hey, this theory is—at best—made up of patchy and inconsistent data. Maybe I should check.”
  • Ask gives us new data: “What do you think of flowers, Judes?”
  • Listen lets us compare the new data with the existing theory. “Oh wow, Judes thinks flowers are a waste of money but she really likes cakes.”

 

And if we do that well enough we can update our theory and get a more accurate view of the other person. “If I give Judes cake, she’ll be happy.”

We’ll always have our assumptions, but with Stop Ask Listen we can test them and make sure they are accurate.