Chapter 1 - Consent Subchapter: Yes No I Don’t Know

YNIDK and personal vs formal relationships

Key points

  • If Stop Ask Listen helps you work out where you stand on a decision, Yes No I Don’t Know is a framework for navigating shared consent.
  • It consists of three responses and zones, each with their own rules and guidelines.
  • It applies to personal relationships, not formal relationships.
  • In formal relationships, one person has limited authority over another, and they don’t need consent when acting within that authority.
  • If a personal decision comes up inside a formal relationship, then YNIDK applies.


What is Yes No I Don’t Know?

We use Stop Ask Listen to get some insight into where both people in a relationship stand on key decisions. Yes No I Don’t Know is a framework for thinking about what happens next and negotiating consent.

You have three possible responses to any shared decision:

  • Yes
  • No
  • I don’t know

Depending on the response, you move into one of three zones:

  • Action zone
  • End zone
  • Maybe zone


Each zone has its own rules, options and challenges, which we’ll cover individually in separate playlist pages.


The Field Model Diagram containing the End Zone, the Maybe Zone and the Action Zone. The No line divides the End Zone and the Maybe Zone. The Yes line divides the Maybe Zone and the Action Zone. I Don't Know is in the middle.


Why do we need it?

We all want to have good relationships—we want fun, satisfaction, connection, comfort, respect, support. But sometimes relationships can be complicated, especially intimate, romantic, sexual relationships, and it can be really hard to work out how both people can get what they want.

  • You want to have sex, they don’t
  • You both want to move in together, but you change your mind 
  • They want to clean up, you want to watch TV 
  • They want to get matching tattoos, you’re not sure 


Any of these can be big or small conflicts, and any conflict can be handled well or handled badly. 

Yes No I Don’t Know helps us with the tactical elements of shared decisions. It helps both people have a shared set of rules and expectations, and gives us a way to work out what’s reasonable, respectful and appropriate. 

It also gives us a way to look back at the conflicts in our relationships and figure out what went wrong, and what either person should or could have done differently. 


The Field Model applies to personal, not formal, relationships

It’s important to note that the Field Model applies to personal relationship decisions, not instructions given within the bounds of formal relationships. 


A split-frame image comparing personal and formal relationships. Personal has two standard illustrated characters. Formal has one standard character and another in judge's clothing holding a hammer.


Personal relationships are the relationships we have with people such as friends, extended family, intimate partners—even random strangers.

Formal relationships are more specific, and include parent/child, teacher/student, police/civilian and employer/employee relationships. These relationships have in-built power imbalances because one person has some authority over the other. For instance:

  • A parent can tell their child to go to bed.
  • A police officer can put someone under arrest.
  • An employer can tell employees what tasks to work on.


The power in a formal relationship is assigned through social institutions and laws, however it is always limited.

This means formal authority doesn’t let you do whatever you want to whoever you want; it only lets you direct people in certain ways under certain conditions. For instance:

  • A parent can only direct a child for their own safety and wellbeing, and only until age 16-18.
  • A police officer can only direct civilians within the bounds of the law.
  • An employer can direct employees only within the bounds of their specific contracts and broader workplace law.


However, if someone has a formal role and is giving you an instruction within the limits of their authority, then this is not a consent issue—you usually don’t have the option to say no; you are obliged to say yes—so the Field Model does not apply.


There are times you can say no to someone with formal authority

An overly ambitious character levitating wearing a crown and making champion arm motions next to a collapsed, broken statue.


You can say no to formal authority when it is being abused or misused. For example, when someone is:

  • Using formal authority to force someone to do something unethical or harmful to themselves or others—such as a teacher telling a student to undress.
  • Claiming formal authority when it doesn’t apply—such as a husband acting as if he is boss and his wife is staff.


By and large, people who have formal power in our society act ethically and appropriately.

However, if an authority directs you to do something illegal, unethical, inappropriate or otherwise harmful to yourself or others, then you can refuse to obey.


That said, it’s not always easy to defy an authority, even when they are acting improperly, because they may have resources and power to punish you for your defiance. You always need to consider your own safety.