Reduce Drama with Six Boundary-Setting Statements

draw line in the sand

Boundaries are lines in the sand. Verbal ones that we draw by telling other people how to treat us or what we find acceptable or even what behaviors we’ll tolerate.

But if we neglect to open our mouths, to speak up, to state our preferences, then others just assume anything goes. They have no reason to think otherwise.

Without meaning to, the absence of boundaries says, “Eh…it doesn’t matter. I have no limits. It’s all good! Whatever YOU decide about how to treat me is fine with me.”

Now, I get you aren’t actually SAYING those words, but saying NOTHING creates that affect.

Can you see where I’m going with this? Once again it comes back to speaking up. It comes back to the way to say it . I get that it isn’t easy to be direct and assertive, but mind-reading is not an effective alternative.

Nor is assuming others know what we want. Or assuming that they want the same things we do.

What if you had some go-to phrases to whip out when you need to stop someone in their tracks? Before it’s too late! Before there’s tension and resentment.

Stopping someone before they cross a line or before they assume they know what you want is much easier than backtracking and having a clean-up conversation.

what to say

Here are a few of my go-to boundary setters:

“Before we get too far, can you tell me what your plans are for this project?”

“You know, it doesn’t seem my feelings are being taken into account. Let’s talk about this before things progress any further?”

“It’s really important to me that ____________ (fill in the blank). Are we on the same page with that?”

“I certainly respect your needs. I’d like to talk about this to make sure my needs are being met too.”

“I tend to be direct to avoid problems down the road. Let’s compare plans and make sure we’re in agreement.”

“This isn’t really what I had in mind. Can you tell me what you’re thinking so I can be sure we agree?”


One of the real pros about saying things upfront is this:  you avoid future drama! Pre-empting is a great strategy.

Here’s why. Speaking up before there’s tension may be uncomfortable. But it won’t be anything worse than that…a bit uncomfortable…because nothing bad has happened yet.

When we speak up in advance, everyone is still on neutral ground. There’s no tone or  negativity or resentment. Not yet. Because all we’re doing is inquiring or checking in to make sure those involved in the issue or project are seeing things, planning things, taking action with the same point of view.

The stress, tension and resentment avoided this way is huge. All that’s needed is to develop a habit of saying to yourself in the moment, “I had better check now. I had better ask now. It will be so much easier to just ask now and avoid the possibility of drama and conflict later.”drama free black bakcground

Wanna reduce the drama in your life, your office? Start here with boundaries.  Set them BEFORE things go sideways. We’ll talk another day about boundary setting AFTER the fact in the midst of tension and drama.

As my neighbor says to her three and six-year old boys, “Use your words.” I can’t think of better advice to share.

What are “your words” for boundary setting?  I’d love to hear how you set boundaries at the office or home. Can’t have too many good responses to avoid drama!


  1. Some of my favorites, maybe from a slightly different angle or other types of situations.

    Door-to-door sales person, “I’m all set (with my copier, paper, etc), thank you.” No more words, detach without engaging. Close the door politely.

    How to say No easily without having to explain why or justify: “That’s not going to work for me.” “That day won’t work.” “That won’t work.”

    How to say No so you don’t take on another project: “I can’t do —. What I can do is —-. Would that be helpful?”

    Not available right now: “I’m in the middle of something right now, let me call you back.” Then hang up or walk away.

    Argument: “Hang on…we are on the same team here. Let’s figure this out together.”

    With kids doing something we don’t want them to do for whatever reason: “No thank you….Let’s do —. Let’s use our hands to be kind. Let’s use our hands to be helpful. Let’s use kind words.”
    “Oh, no thank you, Mary.”
    “We all —–. That’s just the rule.”
    “All the other children are —- (sitting, standing quietly, etc)
    “No means No.” Then detach, stay neutral and go about your business.

    You need to go without feeling bad, simple and matter-of-fact: “I need to run.” If helpful state the outside reason: “My client is here; I am at my destination; let’s talk after my meeting, will you be around?” Repeat if necessary, then get off the phone swiftly or walk away, follow up words with behavior.

    Person who launches and keeps talking without checking in and generally wants more time than you have. Get their attention, which might take more than one try: “Susie, hang on. Hold on. I have ten minutes to talk/before I am or have to —-. Do you want to talk now or later when I have more time/am not distracted?” In this situation, you HAVE to keep your stated time commitment: “Okay, hun, I need to go/get off the phone. Let’s —- All right, bye now/love you/talk later/it will work out/keep the faith (some encouragement or term of affection so they feel your care and may be less likely to take your having to go personally.)

    I’d love to hear other ideas.

    Amy St. Hilaire, LMFT

    • Thanks Amy for sharing your “boundary setting” comments. Some great ideas everyone can use!