Communication Wisdom

Gathered for you

Reshaping Conflict Conversations: The Power of a Consent Mindset.

blog boundaries conflict Sep 25, 2023

Nine Surprising Ways a Consent Mindset Can Completely Transform Your Conflict Conversations.

Have you ever thought about consent in relation to conflict conversations?

Just like all healthy relationships, conflict is at its best when it is consent-led. Consent is often discussed in relation to sex and intimacy, as well as around tech preferences, but rarely is it discussed around conflict.

No one likes conflict pressure or a conflict surprise!

Consent, a pivotal concept in interpersonal dynamics, embodies the essence of mutual understanding and respect. Rooted in clear communication, it establishes the framework for acknowledging and honouring personal boundaries, desires, and comfort levels within relationships. Consent’s significance lies in its power to foster trust and emotional safety, forming a cornerstone of all healthy interactions.

By intentionally intertwining consent with conflict communication dynamics, consent becomes transformative, enabling open dialogue and promoting empathy in some of our most charged interactions.

The bottom line is, if you want to have healthy and successful conflict conversations, you want them to approach them with a CONSENT MINDSET.

This evolution in your awareness amplifies the essence of consent, nurturing relationships where individuals are valued, heard, and empowered, ultimately paving the way for more harmonious and mutually enriching conversations.

Below are the 9 different ways you can cultivate a consent mindset and completely reshape your conflict conversations for the better. Keep reading to find clear examples for each point, including scripts for how you can integrate a consent mindset into the way you communicate in different situations.

You might even be surprised how good it feels!

โ€ผ๏ธ Save the list below for easy reference in the future, but read on the for the all important details.

  1. Communicate Clearly: Share with the person what the problem is and explain how it affects you.
  2. Don’t Coerce: Ensure the person can choose freely without any pressure or manipulation.
  3. Seek (& Offer) Verbal Consent: Always check for a definite verbal “Yes” before continuing.
  4. Assure Conscious Consent: Make sure all or both of you are mentally, physically, and emotionally able to give full consent.
  5. No Hidden Agenda: Ensure everyone is completely aware of the what, why, and risks at every stage.
  6. Be Mindful of Power Imbalances: Make adjustments for unequal dynamics, considering each other’s positions.
  7. Confirm, Don’t Assume: Always double-check understanding, agreements, and actions instead of making assumptions.
  8. Pay Attention to Non-Verbal Cues: Be attentive to gestures, expressions, and tone of voice, not just spoken words.
  9. Show Mutual Respect: Remember that mutual respect is crucial throughout the process.

When you intentionally cultivate a consent mindset it not only transforms your relationship with conflict, it also empowers the other person or people to behave in new and generous ways, leading to more co-creative conversations.

Another bonus is that the consent mindset also brings a completely new way of experiencing communication as a whole.

1: Communicate Clearly

Open and honest communication about desires, boundaries, and comfort levels.

The brain loves logic! Use as few words as possible. Specify what you want the other person to increase or diminish. Keep it action-focused rather than focusing on them as a person. Avoid using highly charged or emotional words (e.g. I want you to be less defensive, more loving, be less lazy) that can be interpreted in different ways and give rise to defensiveness.

From a consent mindset this looks like logical cause and effect language. The best way for someone’s brain to receive your request is to remove all blame (aka: heat) from how you communicate the issue.

Their BEHAVIOUR + its IMPACT on you = the SPECIFIC thing that needs to change.

๐Ÿ“Œ Examples:

  • Signalling a specific type of situation: Because you didn’t book a restaurant for our date as you had promised, we now have to find somewhere last minute. This is very stressful for me and, more importantly, it is not fair to us. Could you share what happened? (NOT: It’s your fault we our date is ruined now.)
  • Signalling a recurring behaviour: Every time you reschedule our call, I feel as though our relationship is not important to you. As a result, my interest wanes and I am less engaged. What’s going on for you? (NOT: You make me feel unimportant.)

Preparing the other person’s brain to receive feedback in this way helps them to be more open to what you have to say.

2: Don’t Coerce

Consent must be given without coercion, pressure, or manipulation. It should be a voluntary choice made without fear of consequences.

No one likes conflict pressure or a conflict-surprise. A consent mindset empowers the other person you want to have a difficult conversation with to be as ready as possible for that conversation.

The first way you do this is to find a good time for the conversation itself.

๐Ÿ“Œ Examples:

  • Signalling your consideration: “When would you have 10 minutes to talk about how our last conversation went?”
  • Signalling your intention: “I have some ideas on how to improve things between us and I’d like to share them with you. When would be a good time?”

** If someone says “No / Not interested / Never” to having a conversation about an issue in your relationship, accept their response at that time and ask again in the near future, such as the next day, or the following week, perhaps reiterating your reason for asking for one using the blame-free cause+effect framework in Point 1.

This simple ‘best-time’ technique displays respect towards the other person, and they will feel that.

3: Seek & Offer Verbal Consent

Consent here feels like a tangible and clear willingness to continue. You can do this by seeking a ‘micro yes’.

Communication may feel tense, and even a little begrudging, but it can be willing. Verbal consent is often referred to as ‘enthusiastic agreement’ in the intimacy-consent world, but let’s be honest — there is breakdown in the relationship in some way here and you are approaching or having a difficult conversation.

So when applying a consent mindset to this context I would seek clear verbal agreement instead of enthusiastic agreement. You are looking for a definite “yes” response to your questions around having or continuing a conflict conversation. You may want to seek a “yes’ response around the following dynamics.

Do they agree that there is an issue?
Are they willing to have a conversation about the issue?
Are they willing to continue the conversation during a tense moment?
Do they understand your perspective/experience? (especially if it is different from theirs).

๐Ÿ“Œ Examples:

  • Signalling your appreciation: “Thank you for listening to what I had to say. Does it make sense to you?”
  • Signalling your empathy: “It feels like it has gotten quite tense right now, are you willing to continue?”
  • Signalling your state: “I am feeling pretty emotional right now, can we take a 5 minute break?”

Verbal agreements act like readiness-thresholds for the person’s willingness, and can even help them to drop tensions and resistance before you move on.

4: Assure Conscious Consent

If someone is intoxicated, overwhelmed, asleep, exhausted, or unable to understand the situation, they cannot give valid consent.

This is akin to finding the best time for a conflict conversation, but with added nuance. A person’s overall state really makes a huge difference to the success of a conflict conversation. Consent mindset means that you would consider these nuances before opening or even inviting a conflict conversation with another person.

Springing it on your housemate first thing in the morning before caffeine, not a great idea. Last thing at night with your partner just before bed, likely means an awkward and tense night’s sleep. Just before a meeting with the whole team is going to affect the vibe of the meeting for everyone, and not in a good way.

Consider capacity to consent in these ways; cognitive, emotional, physiological, relational, psychological, philosophical, spiritual.

๐Ÿ“Œ Consider these:

  • Cognitive — Are you/they awake (enough), sober (enough)?
    Consider time of day, any relevant medication or other intoxicants taken.
  • Emotional — Are you/they as calm and regulated as possible?
    Consider nervous system regulation such as breathing exercises, walking, rest, etc.
  • Physiological — Are you/they physically comfortable?
    Consider if anyone is standing in the rain/cold, too hot, thirsty, or hungry.
  • Relational — Are you the best person to bring this up with them?
    Consider if it might be better received from a friend, colleague, line manager, sibling.
  • Psychological — Is there anything else front of mind for you/them right now?
    Consider any distractions or pressing life issues to clear first.
  • Philosophical — How and why is this important to your ongoing relationship?
    Consider if they are your romantic partner, a main colleague, a neighbour…
  • Spiritual — Is this worth bringing up or can you work on it yourself?
    Consider taking responsibility for your own feelings, triggers, and behaviours.

By considering a person’s capacity to consent in this more nuanced way, you are raising the potential for a successful and connected outcome to a conflict conversation. This also applies to you and your own state, so ask yourself these questions too.

5: No Hidden Agenda

Each person should have a clear understanding of what they are agreeing to. This includes being aware of potential risks and consequences.

Remember when I said no one likes a conflict surprise… If the person has a chance to prepare their thoughts, and know the risks and consequences involved, they can come to it feeling ready for that particular conversation, rather than the one they thought was going to happen.

In the power-battle approach to conflict it can feel like you want to spring it on them so you can gain the upper hand, the element of surprise. All you are achieving with this tactic is jump-starting their defence mechanisms, ensuring you are off to a confrontational start from the beginning.

It’s fundamental to a consent mindset to signpost what the conversation is about when you ask when is a good time for the conversation, and if relevant, communicate any risks.

๐Ÿ“Œ Examples:

  • Signalling different themes:
    “I’d like to have a chat about how we discuss the children, when would be a good time?” OR “I found our last meeting quite challenging, would you be open to a conversation about how we could do it differently next time?” OR “I’m feeling anxious about visiting your family, can we have a chat about it before saturday?”
  • Signalling consequences: “Thank you for speaking with me today, it is important that you know that the outcome of this conversation will affect your project budget.”
  • Signalling consequences: “The board has asked me to inform you that this is the last time we will discuss this, and that a final decision will be made at the end of the week.”

** When we feel under threat our fight-or-flight stress response kicks in and we get a surge of cortisol and adrenaline. We then respond in our habituated ways ranging from outright defensive to completely avoidant. For more info on this see conflict styles and attachment styles. Or my upcoming blog on The 6 Stress Responses & How They Show Up In Communication (coming soon).

6: Be Mindful of Power Imbalances

Be aware of power imbalances within the relationship, or any external factors that might influence someone’s ability to provide genuine consent.

The goal here is an atmosphere of psychological safety. Extra care needs to be given when your relationship is operating in an existing hierarchy such as employment, education, or family. This is not to say that it is always an unbalanced power, but a consent mindset means that you consider any potential imbalances, and make adjustments for it where needed.

For example, if you are the boss then your employee may not feel equally entitled to raise issues with you because of the potential risk to ongoing employment.

Below is a snapshot of a relational framework for considering when a power may be unbalanced (Power Over), and the benefits of shifting it towards a more equal dynamic (Power With).

Image created by Working With Voice

๐Ÿ“Œ Examples:

  • Signalling empathy: “Thank you for sharing with me, I can really understand where you are coming from, and appreciate that it has been challenging for you too.”
  • Signalling you are listening: “What is it like for you? I’m all ears?
  • Signalling you want to understand: “I’m aware this is only my side of the story. Would you be willing to share how you see it?”

** Physiological safety, when concerning difficult conversations, refers to creating a secure and supportive atmosphere that allows individuals to engage in open and honest dialogue without fear of physical or emotional harm. When a person feels safe, they are more likely to express their concerns honestly, contribute constructively, and collaborate generously to address challenging issues in a mutual way.

7: Confirm, Don’t Assume

Never assume that someone is okay with or agrees with a particular action, perspective, or activity. Always ask for explicit clarification.

Conflict conversations have stages, for example; Is there agreement there is tension/conflict? >> Is this the right time? >> Is there agreement on what is going on here? >> Are you both/all open to hearing each other’s suggestions/ideas on ways forward? >> Is there agreement on what change is needed after discussion? >> Are you and/or the other person willing to adjust their behaviour to alleviate the difficulty in the relationship, and in what way?

Consent is an ongoing process, and it can be withdrawn at any time.

How we feel changes constantly, and in conflict conversations emotions can suddenly flood in and drastically change how someone is understanding or experiencing the situation. It can be really valuable to have an understanding of the 6 different stress responses, (yes six!) that drive people’s behaviour during a conflict conversation, including your own behaviour.

Here they are at a glance.

Image created by Working With Voice

A consent mindset means that you regularly facilitate checking in with each other that you are still on the same page, and that consent is still present. Don’t assume that they know what the issue is. Don’t assume that they are ok with your suggestions.

๐Ÿ“Œ Examples:

  • “Would you mind sharing with me what you understand based on what I have said?”
  • “Based on the suggestions, what would feel like a good next step to you?”
  • “Are you willing to make these changes going forward?”
  • “Are you ok with what we have discussed?”
  • “Do you have any questions on what we have discussed?”
  • “Is there anything else we need to discuss before we end this conversation?”

Make use of that ‘micro yes’ technique mentioned earlier in Point three throughout your conversation to check your assumptions and seek verbal consent, confirmation, or clarification.

8: Pay Attention To Non-Verbal Cues

Non-verbal cues and body language are valuable signposts to the different things present in the conversation.

If you have a hunch on the other person’s state, something feels off, or you get a sense of something else going on in the dynamic, then check in and seek clarification or verbal consent again.

The likelihood is that you are picking up on some non-verbal cues, maybe even subconsciously. To a consent mindset these are valuable signposts to the unspoken tensions, and can be addressed by using gentle questions to uncover what they are signalling.

๐Ÿ“Œ Examples:

When your intention is to connect and hold space for someone’s feelings.

  • “You seem a bit off/bit tired/bit sad today — is there anything you want to talk about?”
  • “You don’t seem your usual self today, are you ok?”
  • “Excuse me if I am intruding, but you don’t seem quite right today, would you like to talk about anything?”

When you want to name an emotion in their tone you sense may be about how they are feeling in themselves.

  • “Great, you seem really pleased with that outcome, have I got that right?”
  • “You look happy today! — anything special?”
  • “You alright?? You seem a bit down/you seem a bit stressed…”

When you want to name an emotion in their tone you sense may be about how they feel towards you.

  • “I seem to have upset you, would you be open to telling me why?”
  • “I get the sense that this is a surprise, am I right?”
  • “Communication feels quite tense between us at the moment. Is there something we need to talk about?”

When these signposts are ignored they can lead you into conflict-cul-de-sacs, often resulting in built up frustration, misunderstandings, or at worst, emotional outbursts.

9: Show Mutual Respect

Respecting each other’s boundaries and decisions, especially if they differ from your own, is vital in maintaining a healthy relationship.

When you approach conflict with a consent mindset you come from the belief that their experience is valid and true for them, especially when it is hard for you to hear or experience. This is not about suppressing or ignoring your own experiences, feelings, or thoughts, it is about also holding theirs in your awareness as equally valid. Annoying I know, but a total gamechanger for the success of the conversation.

Yes AND rather than Yes BUT

The challenge with a conflict is that there is a disagreement, a differing view or experience of a situation. So your capacity to hold differing views or experiences as equally valid throughout the conversation will help you stay calm and open to the ongoing process.

๐Ÿ“Œ Real Life Example:

On a long flight I found myself sitting next to a Trump voter and supporter in 2018. I personally would never vote for Trump myself were I an American. Whilst my first thought was ‘she must be stupid’ (being honest here), my second one was curiosity, so I said…

“Whilst I can not imagine ever voting for Trump myself, I am really curious what you like about him, would you be open to sharing your reasons with me?”

My question was rooted in a consent mindset that led to a fantastic open discussion around our differing political views. We each held mutual respect for each other’s political positions and choices, and offered open curiosity around each other’s reasons. She ended up putting me up overnight in her own home and driving me back to the airport for my connecting flight the next morning.

By approaching this conversation with a consent mindset I sought verbal consent from the start, adding no pressure for her to open up. I also offered psychological safety by showing my genuine curiosity. My question was intentionally non-confrontational, and we regularly checked in with each other throughout the conversation if we were happy to share more detail.

Conflict is an inevitable part of life and is also present in ALL healthy relationships.

A consent mindset truly is a cornerstone of maintaining healthy relationships as it establishes mutual respect, clear communication, and trust between all involved. It ensures that boundaries are acknowledged and respected, promoting emotional and physical well-being when there is cause for emotional discomfort and relational tension. When you approach communication (conflict or otherwise) from the foundation of a consent mindset relationships can thrive, fostering openness, safety, and an understanding of each other’s needs and desires.

Rather than avoiding conflict, the key lies in learning how to engage in it in a healthy way. Recognising that conflict can arise from differing perspectives and needs allows us to approach disagreements with curiosity, and a willingness to understand the other person’s viewpoint and experience.

Accepting conflict as a natural part of life and relationships empowers us to embrace it with grace and intentionality. It can even be an opportunity for growth, deepening trust, and strengthening relationships through collaborative problem-solving.

By embracing a consent mindset for your conflict conversations I promise you will have much more successful, and even enjoyable conflict conversation overall, and you may even be surprised by how it strengthens bonds and enriches the quality of those relationships that have been tricky for years!

If this approach struck a chord with you then follow me in all the usual places for lots more support and tools: Insta, Linkedin, Medium, and see below for where you can head to next for like this!

๐Ÿ‘‹๐Ÿผ Thea May is a communication coach and guide. She founded Working With Voice to help individuals become unstuck in their communication.

She helps both the quiet-types and the social butterflies find their flow in speaking and writing. Her coaching can be received 1–1 or in a group setting.

With over a decade’s worth of spoken-communication coaching under her belt, Thea now brings her own unique approach to the table.

Her clients and community love Thea because of her state-changing exercises and compelling reframes of communication norms.

๐Ÿ‘‰ Find out more here: Working With Voice

๐Ÿคณ๐Ÿพ WhatsApp Thea with your questions or to connect.

๐Ÿ“ง Get her newsletter packed with practical communication wisdom 

๐Ÿชง Some more free content for you

โšก๏ธChange your relationship with conflict by taking my Reimagining Conflict course. Inside this course are new and liberating communication tools, strategies, & reframes.

๐Ÿ‘€ Head over to my instagram for more bite sized content like this.

๐Ÿ‘€ Find out how the SIX Fight-or-Flight stress responses that govern our behaviour and hinder healthy communication.

โ˜๏ธ Send me your communication questions through the Ask Thea form, and get a personalised answer in just a few days time!




 SUBMIT your communication question.

RECEIVE a tip, strategy, or tool to you can use straight away!!

Thea answers every question sent in, often signposting to free resources we have available.

We hate SPAM. We will never sell your information, for any reason.