Asking Permission

{Carol Wilson. Permission Protocol.}

{Wilson, 2020. Performance Coaching.}

Asking for permission is an essential skill that makes a difference in building and maintaining relationships. The need for permission varies with the established trust and the situation. For example, situations range from harmony between two individuals to conflict, requiring more and higher permission as we move from one to the other through establishing boundaries, giving feedback, and ensuring one is being heard. In each case, the higher the trust, the lower the need to ask permission.


People must feel in control to act in civility. The perception of lack of control triggers a fear response. Being verbally challenged through words dismissing one’s autonomy is one way one might perceive one’s control being taken away, planting the seeds of conflict. “Yes, but I think we should do it this way!” is just one such expression dismissing all that was said before by the other.

In contrast, “Could I suggest an idea?” or expressions that start with “Could I?”, “May I?” or “Do you think?” can lower the tension because they give people that sense of control and they feel less threatened.

When on the receiving end, asking permission buys us time and helps to relax other people when we are in a position to dispense a dispute and turn a potential battle into a constructive discussion.

Being heard

Whether in a one-to-one conversation or with a group, we might not get our turn to speak or feel confident enough to speak up. With simple politeness, we can use a permission-based phrase that acts like a magic wand to stop everyone from talking and capture their attention, “Could I add something to that?” or “Could I add something that might be helpful?”

When people ask permission to speak, it is unlikely that anyone would be rude enough to refuse.

Furthermore, the surprise of being asked when everyone else is interrupting and saying “yes, but” stops people in their tracks. Rather than dismissing, this phrase validates what has gone before and, in turn, the person who said it. The phrase implies, “I have listened to what you said and found it so valuable that I would like to add more. Your ideas are worth paying attention to, and therefore I value you as a person.” The fact that what you add may contradict what has gone before is neither here nor there; you have captured attention, and people will listen, and, feeling heard and valued, they are more likely to take on board what you are going to say.


Giving feedback might require asking permission, sometimes repeatedly, so the receivers can ease into the message. A session conversation might move like this:

What would you like to achieve out of this session?

What did you notice about your performance?

What went well; what challenged you?

(Asking permission:) May I tell you what I liked?

If you could do it again, what might you do differently?

What will it be like when you can do that?

(Asking permission:) Can I make a suggestion? Can we discuss …?

What will you do about it in the future?


Permission is helpful in situations with no adverse conditions, such as an inaugural, newly formed team meeting. When people understand that an effective team needs different skills, methods, and ways of thinking, the team will flourish.

Asking permission can mean the difference between going through the “storming stage” or undertaking a more positive and fruitful passage toward “norming” the team.

An opening statement to welcome the team and start the meeting might involve several facilitating factors:

Praise the team. Confident people think more clearly and perform at their best.

Promise to support them, implying you are there to serve rather than control the group.

Invite the team to put forward their ideas before giving them yours. When they respond, ensure no one is interrupted, and each member can speak for as long as they wish. Role model the framework for the future so people know they won’t be interrupted by you and are, therefore, less likely to interrupt each other. When people know they will not be interrupted, they think more clearly and perform at their best again.

Ask the team’s permission to put a question. This gives everyone a sense of control, which, along with the request for their ideas, engages their interest immediately. Rather than reducing your authority, this humility raises their respect for you.

Instead of picking on someone, ask for a volunteer, giving them control.

Start the meeting by asking for goals.


Close relationships with high trust engender honest, kind, respectful, and caring actions and attitudes. In such relationships, asking permission might not be observed in spoken words. Yet, a conjoined body language of open, relaxed interaction is apparent.

Asking permission is a way of recognizing and honoring personal boundaries, ranging from giving control to taking control. The corresponding expressions might be:

Giving control by asking permission, “May I …?”

Neutral words of asking a question, What do you …?” or stating an opinion, “I think …”

Taking control by insisting, “The fact is …”

This tug-of-war over permission and control exists in all relationships to some extent. However, firm boundaries must be in place for good relationships to flourish.