Consent at Work - FRIES

Photo by Mitchell Luo on Unsplash
9 May 2024

Last week I attended a workshop about intimacy and consent organised by What Does Not and facilitated by Lidia Ravviso. It was totally PG – get your mind out of the gutter! – and extremely valuable while nicely catapulting me from my comfort zone.

I went thinking that I could learn to be a better partner, friend, parent, etc. but after making intense eye-contact with multiple strangers for 60 seconds each I realised that being able to create a deep bond with others is also relevant if you’re acting as a manager, colleague, trainer, coach, teammate, or individual contributor.

I’d go as far as saying that every collaboration requires consent.


One of the biggest takeaways was “FRIES”. Originally created by Planned Parenthood to help people navigate and be clear on sexual consent, I think it has a lot of direct applicability to the world of work, particularly when it comes to volunteering and assigning activities and degrees of involvement or engagement.

True consent must meet the following conditions.

Freely given

If you are not free to give consent, you’re not really giving consent. Anytime there’s a power imbalance, there’s a risk that the consenting party isn’t actually free to say “No” which means they also cannot actually say “Yes”.It happens in show business all the time but is equally present in the business world, especially in a tough economic climate.

If you’re in a position of power over another person, be very careful when you ask them to do something. You may think that they can say “no” but consider the alternatives. Do you actually know how much they need this job? Or how much they are trying to make a good impression by being overly agreeable?

If you’re on the receiving end of a request, check-in with yourself and make sure you really feel free to say yes or no. Even if you want to agree to do something, there may be some subconscious previous commitment or limitation that prevents you from freely consenting.

Pay attention.


Any act of consent must be readily and instantly reversible. A “yes” right now does not necessarily mean a “yes” in 5 months or 5 minutes. Circumstances, schedules, levels of comfort or understanding change.

Check in frequently throughout whatever project, process, or activity you’ve requested and make sure the consent is still “active”. Be gracious and immediately responsive if it gets withdrawn for any reason whatsoever.

Often we sign up for something (a job, a task, a salary, a team) but later realise that it just doesn’t work. Whether it’s immediate or after years of being acceptable, it’s vital particularly for people in positions of power to check-in and create the kind of environment where people can reveal what’s NOT working.

Imagine how different most workplaces would be if we followed-up with each other and constantly made sure things were still as comfortable and effective as possible for everyone involved?


To give any type of consent, you have to know what you’re getting into. How many times at work have you heard the phrase “I’m sure so-and-so will be up for this” (before so-and-so even knows what we want them to do). How often do we, ourselves, say “yes” to a project, task, or responsibility before we really know what’s being asked? If it matters in intimate relationships or medical procedures, why shouldn’t we make sure we’re properly informed before undertaking activities in the workplace?

Take the time to have these discussions up front and you’ll save a lot of misunderstanding and frustration later.


An unenthusiastic “yes” is a “no”. It certainly goes for intimate relationships and it also goes for work. This one is especially relevant when a team is trying to get work done in a complex, dynamic context, especially where psychological safety might not already be healthy and well-established.

Make sure you’re giving and receiving enthusiastic consent for anything you’re asking or offering to do. When you sense it’s not enthusiastic, this is a wonderful opportunity to build more safety and understanding in the team or between individuals by looking together at what’s going on and what might be limiting our enthusiasm. Are we not sufficiently informed? Are we already overloaded? Do we not feel confident we have the skills to take this on? These conversations are gold. Have them.


One of the most important activities any team will do is to deconstruct what their stakeholders want and translate this into highly specific and concrete actions that they can take, features they can build, content they can produce, policies they can write, tests they can run, etc. Agreeing to work one Saturday is very different from doing it every week for a year.

It’s impossible to know every detail of every activity before you start – this is the trouble with “Big Requirements Up Front” – but getting as specific as reasonably possible about each piece of work or each activity before you agree to take them on will make them much easier to deliver.

What do you think?

Can we use this model in the workplace? Will it strengthen accountability and safety and help us build stronger more intimate and higher-performing relationships with our colleagues? I’d love to know what you think!