Why Stop Ask Listen?
- In any relationship there are times that we want different things.
- In a respectful relationship we notice, negotiate and resolve these differences well.
- Stopping buys us a moment to consider what the other person wants.
- Asking, whether obvious or subtle, gives us insight.
- Listening gives us the chance to be changed by what we learn.
This topic requires understanding of the Field Model.
Why we need Stop Ask Listen
Relationships are easy when both people want exactly the same thing at the same time, and they both communicate that clearly—but eventually, at some point, even in the best relationships we want different things.
- I want to stay in. You want to go out.
- You want pizza. I want sushi.
- I want romance. You want to “keep it chill”.
Wanting different things means conflict; big and small, subtle or obvious—all types of conflict.
We can tell the quality of a relationship by how well we notice, negotiate and resolve these differences, but we often don’t do this as well as we should. We irritate, frustrate and annoy each other… and sometimes we can seriously hurt and harm one another.
The Field Model tries to make working through these differences just a little easier.
The Field Model is a way to think about relationships and figure out the right steps to take in any shared decision, however big or small.
It is based on two basic propositions:
- Proposition 1: We are all people with our own rich inner worlds, parts of which will be hidden from other people.
- Proposition 2: As a society we have decided that we can’t just take what we want from another person without their consent.
If we accept these propositions as true, then the Field Model gives us some steps and rules to follow.
The first step is Stop Ask Listen.
If we want something from another person, we need to make sure we both agree on what that something is.
But to do this we need to understand the other person: What do they want? How do they feel? Do they want the same thing as we do?
Finding this out can be harder than it sounds.
Stopping means catching yourself before you do anything, just pausing for a moment to consider what the other person wants.
This sounds like nothing, but we often become fixated on what we want, or blind to the other person.
We might do this for all sorts of reasons—because we’re preoccupied, selfish, convinced we already know what’s best—but we run the risk of disrespecting or hurting the other person.
All we’re trying to do is see the other person for who they really are—not as we wish they were, or believe they are, or expect them to be—but who they actually are, and what they really think, feel, want and believe.
Stopping doesn’t have to be a massive “WHOA! STOP! SHUT IT DOWN WHILE WE NEGOTIATE!” It can be small and subtle, just catching ourselves in a moment of awareness and recognition.
And we can get better at stopping through practice, becoming more sensitive and careful.
Once we stop, we actually need to ask the other person what they want.
This could be a direct but open question, like, “What do you want?” Or a direct but more specific question, like, “Can I kiss you?”
We can also ask indirectly, even non-verbally, by looking for a particular kind of eye contact, nod, smile, touch—or text, animoji or whatever else we use to communicate.
Most people would probably prefer asking indirectly because it feels easier, safer, less like we’re putting ourselves on the line. But it’s also easier to misunderstand, even with people we know quite well.
Depending on the decision, asking could be super easy and dealt with in seconds, or it could take hours, months, even years of investigation.
We could probably all get better at being simple and direct with other people about what we want.
The point of asking is to get insight into the other person.
Ultimately, we need to be the judge on whether or not we think we’ve got that insight; we need to be confident that we know which of us is saying yes, no, or I don’t know.
To be sure, we should ask ourselves some serious questions:
- If you asked directly, did they answer directly?
- If they said yes, are you sure it’s genuine or do they feel pressured in some way?
- Do they feel safe to say no? Did you ask? Did you make it safe to say no?
- If you asked indirectly, how strong are the signals back?
- Have you tried asking a couple of different ways to make sure you understand what they are saying?
Moving to the decision
If we listen effectively, we should know where we stand on the decision and can work out what to do next.
What’s most important
What’s important though is that we stop ourselves from acting blindly or selfishly, ask the other person about their experience and what they want, and we listen and are willing to be changed by what they tell us.