The Role of Trust and Skepticism in Agreements


Doctor Neha: Hi, and welcome to Talk Rx with Doctor Neha. Today I have a special guest from London whose name is Paris. I’m always so honored when people are willing to ask their communication questions in a way that other people can learn, so for that, I just want to say, I applaud you and I thank you for everybody who gets to watch.

Paris: No problem, it’s a pleasure.

Doctor Neha: Tell me, what communication question or what kind of a dilemma you have been thinking about.

Paris: I guess that one thing I find interesting about communication is when you hear two people having a conversation and someone’s asking someone else if they want to do something. If they’re busy at a certain time and you hear the other person’s response, and even though you might not know these two people, you know that one of them has given a flaky response. They’re not really committed to what they’ve verbally committed to.

Doctor Neha: Right.

Paris: That’s something I’ve always found really interesting.

Doctor Neha: What you’re talking about is the way that two people make agreements. Agreements are made every day. For example, “Hey Paris, can you grab milk on the way home? I’ll see you at the show at 6.” Or all the way to, “Are we exclusive?” It goes from simple agreements to complex agreements. When two people are talking, and you’re overhearing them at the gym or at the store, wherever it is, your question is around, “What’s going on there? How does that work?” Why don’t we do a little exercise?

Paris: Sure.

Doctor Neha: There’s this movie called Inside Out. It’s a movie about emotions. Have you heard about this?

Paris: No.

Doctor Neha: Okay, let’s pretend it’s coming out this weekend. You’re going ask me five different times if I’d like to go to see this movie Inside Out this weekend. I’m going to answer you differently five times. Each time I want you to tell me if we’re going to the movies.

Paris: Okay. Do you want to go see this movie, Inside Out, on Friday evening?

Doctor Neha: “Oh, Inside Out? I didn’t even know it was out. It’s out already?”

Paris: Yeah, the premiere is on Thursday, but on Friday, it’s at regular cinemas.

Doctor Neha: So are we going to the movies?

Paris: No.

Doctor Neha: What did I just do? What I just did was acknowledge that you spoke. Wasn’t that nice of me? This is a level 1 agreement.

Paris: I really appreciate it when you do it like that. Yeah.

Doctor Neha: That’s someone just acknowledging you. Okay. Ask it again.

Paris: Hey, would you like to go and see this film called Inside Out on Friday night?

Doctor Neha: I have been dying to see that movie ever since we saw the trailer last fall. Are we going to the movies?

Paris: Nope.

Doctor Neha: Why not?

Paris: You haven’t made any mention about whether we’re going on Friday or not. You just made a comment about the movie.

Doctor Neha: Okay, level 1 was acknowledging you. Level 2 is positive interest. You actually know that I’m interested in doing this. Right?

Paris: Yeah.

Doctor Neha: Okay, level 3.

Paris: Hey, would you like to go and see this movie Inside Out on Friday night?

Doctor Neha: Yes, I definitely want to go and see it. I have to finish some paperwork for this house insurance. As long as I get that done, we’re definitely going. Are we going to the movies?

Paris: No. I don’t trust your ability to get the paperwork done. This is New York, so something will come in the way. We haven’t even talked about what time it’s on.

Doctor Neha: You’re not buying it.

Paris: No, I’m not buying you.

Doctor Neha: You’re not buying it. Okay, so that’s a level 3 agreement. That’s when I say yes and I give you a qualified yes. I call that a California yes. I have all these things I could do, so I want to leave my options open.

Paris: Yep.

Doctor Neha: Okay, so I tell you all the other things that need to happen. That’s a Level 3 agreement. Let’s move onto Level 4.

Paris: Hey, would you like to go and see this film Inside Out on Friday night?

Doctor Neha: Yes. Are we going to the movies?

Paris: We might be if I followed it up with another question and said, “These are the showing times. Which one works for you?” I still wouldn’t be 100 percent confident at this stage.

Doctor Neha: Okay. Level 4 is a clear yes. I pretty much said yes; I didn’t make any excuses.

Paris: Yep.

Doctor Neha: Let’s move onto Level 5.

Paris: Hey would you like to go and see this film Inside Out on Friday night?

Doctor Neha: I would love to. You know my favorite theater is the Sundance Kabuki Theater. I’m actually free for the matinee show at 1:00 show on Saturday. How about it we do Saturday? Would that work?

Paris: Yeah, I could do 1:00 on Saturday.

Doctor Neha: Are we going to the movies?

Paris: I’d say it’s very, very likely that we are.

Doctor Neha: You’re a skeptic.

Paris: I am.

Doctor Neha: That agreement is a level 5. Once we both say yes with details confirmed—it’s not like something else couldn’t come up—but we’re going to the movies.

Doctor Neha: Now that we’ve gone through the clear levels of agreements, what I believe happens when you overhear two people navigating agreements, is they actually don’t know when there’s an agreement and when there isn’t, right?

Paris: Yeah.

Doctor Neha: For instance, you really want to go to the movies with me, so if I even acknowledge you and say, “Oh, I’ve been dying to see that movie”, then in your heart and head, you’re thinking, Got it. We’re going to the movies. It also depends on how badly the person who’s asking wants it to happen. Let’s ask a dating question.

Paris: Okay.

Doctor Neha: When you are asking somebody out, does it ever fluctuate inside you, depending on how much you like someone, how clear you are about locking in a date?

Paris: We’re talking about arranging a first date, for example.

Doctor Neha: Right. A first date or a follow up date or whatever it is. Are there times you find yourself not actually having the confidence and clarity that you just had with me around a level 5 agreement?

Paris: Yeah, especially if it’s a first date and I don’t know the woman very well, I think it’d come across pushy if you had to wait until you got a level 5 commitment, right?

Doctor Neha: Right.

Paris: I think you just need to make do with a level 3 in that situation. But if you’ve been dating someone for a while, you can push for that level 5 commitment. If you do it too early, you’re going to scare a girl off.

Doctor Neha: Okay. The other question I wanted to ask you is, where is your skepticism coming in when I’ve given you a level 5. Tell me what that’s about.

Paris: I suppose from experience. Life experience and because of the job I work in. My responsibility is to make sure there are absolutely no risks of certain events happening. I’m kind of trained and programmed to always think of the worst-case scenario and then mitigate against them. That’s probably helped me in personal relationships as well and helped me understand when I’m getting what you call a level 5 or what you’d call a level 2 or a 3.

Doctor Neha: What industry are you in?

Paris: I work in sales in the software industry. I’m responsible for closing business with huge multi-billion dollar organizations, and there’s so many things that can go wrong even after someone has said, “Yes, we’re going to do this.”

Doctor Neha: The deal looks like it’s done, and it’s not done.

Paris: Yeah, of course.

Doctor Neha: Okay, so because this is your experience and your life, pay attention to when that skepticism doesn’t allow you to show up when somebody’s really in. Do you know what I’m talking about?

Paris: As in, physically not showing up?

Doctor Neha: More like the skepticism or the fear might cause you not to believe that something is really as good as it seems. This skepticism might undermine relationships. You seem really clear about knowing when something’s in agreement or not, but it goes even farther than that. Because even when it is an agreement, you’re not sure you believe it. So moving forward, pay attention to when that skepticism arises, because there’s a part of you that gets to let go and trust.

Paris: It depends on who the person is as well, right? If you know someone is a reliable person, you’re more willing to take a level 2 or a level 3 from them, and think that’s going to happen. Where as if someone’s unreliable, you know you have to get a level 5 from that person. My housemate will not commit to anything in advance. He always wants to keep his options open with guys, with girls, or with family. You know that with him you have to get a level 5 for him to be committed; whereas with a lot of other friends, a level 2 is fine because we understand each other and know that we’ll make the best effort to see each other. But if something comes up, that’s cool. Everyone’s got a busy life, right?

Doctor Neha: What you’re talking about is the intentions. You trust your friends’ intentions with you. With your housemate, you actually don’t trust that his yes means yes.

Paris: I trust his intentions. His intentions are always yes when he says yes. It’s just that he’ll say yes to multiple things that are happening at the same time.

Doctor Neha: You don’t trust his ability to put one thing in his calendar at once.

Paris: It’s his personal preference. He’s a popular person who always has a lot going on. It’s his prerogative to kind of do that and then decide what he wants to do. And that’s led to him being successful in his life.

Doctor Neha: OK, how was this for you? Did you get any takeaways? Was there any a-ha for you?

Paris: I think what you say makes complete sense. I noted your word of caution about when skepticism can stop you understanding whether something’s really there or not. Perhaps that’s something to bear in mind.

Doctor Neha: You know, the other idea is about self-trust. It’s okay sometimes if you get hurt because somebody backs out. It’s about you trusting that you can handle what comes next, because sometimes people will back out, and sometimes you will get hurt. You do your best to make that level 5 agreement, and then you trust yourself to handle what comes next. Yeah?

Paris: Sure.

Doctor Neha: If any of you have struggled with trying to make commitments with people and not understanding how they fall through, or even when you have a commitment, you don’t trust that it’s going to happen, be careful because it might undermine your relationships. Being too skeptical when you actually do have an actual agreement can tire other people out and drain you of energy. It might put some strain on your relationships. The next step is to start trusting that you can handle what comes next.

Thanks for joining us and please drop me your questions. If you’d like to be a guest like Paris, let us know. Send me a tweet at #askdoctorneha, or write us in the comments below and tell us what you thought of this exchange and what your communication questions are. Thanks again.

Your Awareness Prescription

  1. Make sure you know what level of agreement
  2. Beware of skepticism impeding your agreements or relationships.
  3. Trust that even if someone breaks an agreement with you, you will be able to handle what comes next.

All for clear agreements,



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