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!

What Your Lack of Response Tells Others

ostrichMost of us think saying nothing is an acceptable and easy response to challenging situations. The ole ostrich-in-the-sand approach.  We hide out. We avoid, ignore and figure in time it will all go away. At the very least the other party will forget about things.

After doing personal coaching for 13 years, it’s clear to me this is not the case. No response, does not equal no problem. The issue doesn’t’ go away just because we aren’t facing it. In fact, more often than not, ignoring the issue leads to other problems.

We may THINK to ourselves, “I’m not saying anything. That will be safe.” But our silence communicates volumes anyway. It leaves things open to the interpretation of others, and, without our input. They decide on their own what our lack of response means. The meaning they give it is rarely what we intend.

Here are some of the conclusions that are often drawn by our silence:

  1. “You don’t care.”  –  If you did care, you would speak up and express your feelings.  Or at the least you would deal with the situation. Most of us interpret silence as indifference.
  2. “I’m not important.”  –   Someone waiting to hear your response might conclude, “I’m not important to you.” After all, in the midst of a misunderstanding or conflict, it would seem if I were important, you would do or say something.
  3. “Things are fine the way they are.” –  Sometimes when no response comes, we decide it means things are fine as is. Nothing needs to be done.
  4. “Do what you want.”  –  This is a convenient conclusion to draw. It allows us to do exactly what we want. After all, we haven’t heard from the other party (you), so obviously it doesn’t matter.  Without your input, we are free to decide what to do next. And considering there is a conflict, we love giving ourselves permission to do what we want.
  5. “It’s over.” –  Depending on the actual situation, sometimes we interpret silence to mean the relationship, friendship, or connection is over. That conclusion sets an entirely new set of circumstances in motion.
  6. “You don’t want to talk to me (or about it).” –  In either case, drawing this conclusion makes the other party completely reluctant to initiate a conversation. The gap widens. The silence continues.

Just because nothing is said, doesn’t mean no conclusions are drawn. Silence in the midst of an issue, argument, misunderstanding or crucial conversation only leads to more resentment and a greater distance to bridge for resolution.

breaking the silence

Are you an avoider? In the midst of a difficult conversation do you simply shut down and stop talking? Do you leave an issue hanging, never sharing your thoughts and questions? If so, remind yourself others will draw their own conclusions and most likely they will not be what you intend.

Want to resolve the issue? Want to affect the outcome? Speak up using The Way to Say It and allow yourself and the other party to talk it through and move on, whether that moving on means resolution, understanding, or just letting go. In any case, the wondering ends and there is clarity.

Want to learn more possibilities about what your silence is saying? Check out these links:

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The Way to Say It: 10 Reasons It Pays to Speak Up First

Someone's got to go first!

Don’t be a scaredy cat! Speak up.

As children we couldn’t wait to be first. First to raise our hands. Answer the teacher’s question. First to get in line. Somewhere along the line that all changed.

We began hesitating. Holding back. Suddenly we waited for someone else to go first.  We watched to see what THEY did, or what THEY said.

As adults, we avoid being the one to speak up first, especially when it means being open and vulnerable.  We think to ourselves…“Not me! Let someone else go first!”

But we miss out on so much by waiting! We stuff our true feelings. Awkwardness increases. What we want to say gets more and more difficult, the longer we wait. We get stuck in our heads.

I observed this pattern when I was 16 while vacationing with my family. In situation after situation, I noticed adults afraid to speak their minds and share their feelings, especially when they had to lead off, or break a long silence.  It struck me as particularly odd that even when it was a compliment or praise to share, most people STILL held back! No one wanted to go first!

I decided “not me.” I began taking the lead in honest, direct conversations.  I shared compliments with strangers. I asked probing questions. I shared my feelings openly. And I made some startling observations.  When I expressed my feelings, the benefits far outweighed the risks. Every time I paved the way, others followed my lead. They opened up to me, and fast!

People willingly dropped their guard, as long as they didn’t have to go to bat first. It made such an impression on me, I committed to GO FIRST.  It’s a choice I have stayed with.

children raising hands happy

Remember being like this?

We don’t have to hesitate.

We don’t have to wait for others to speak up.

We can express ourselves authentically.

Like the children we used to be, we can once again “go first.”  Here’s what we gain by being the initiator: 

  1. Awkwardness fades.  Everyone feels the same inside…anxious and awkward at the thought of these conversations.  Going first ends the discomfort. 
  2. Time is savedBreaking the ice ends the pattern of everyone waiting for SOMEONE else to lead. Someone really has to go first…why not you?
  3. Grace is givenWhat words you choose or how eloquent you are is less important than opening up the dialogue. No one worries cares if it was worded perfectly.    
  4. Respect grows. Speaking up earns you respect. You’ll be perceived as confident and brave.
  5. Trust builds.  Your honesty builds trust with others because you’re opening up.   
  6. Doors open. Others will be more responsive and open, following your lead. Be prepared!
  7. Speaking up gets easier. Over time it becomes natural, easy and comfortable to speak up.  
  8. Visibility expandsYou become the go-to person known for getting things started, for speaking the truth.   
  9. New behavior is modeled for others. Your example becomes a model for to follow.
  10. Connections develop. Starting conversations opens doors to develop connection and  understanding.

My choice to “go first” still serves me well.  I’ve gained the trust of others. People have shared their feelings more easily because they already knew mine. Going first has opened doors and hearts to me and made it well worth the sometimes risky business of leading off.   Occasionally I’ve taken some “shots” for opening up dialogues others wanted to avoid, but those experiences brought great lessons with them.

What about you? Do you go first?  Instead of pointing fingers at people in your life wondering why they aren’t open with you, ask yourself this:

“Am I making it easy for them to open up? Or do I just sit back and wait?”

Take an honest look at yourself today. Then give it a shot. Go first. I’m looking forward to hearing your experiences.