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Two people sitting on a bridge and talking.So often, conflicts in our relationships come from mis-communication and “boundary breakdowns.” Unfortunately, the results can lead to stress, unhappiness, even anger. When emotions are running high, clear, respectful communication can be even more difficult. Since “Positive Communication” and “Boundary Setting” are two of the core sets of skills that we teach in Kidpower, today I’d like to share how we can build a “Boundary Bridge” in order to avoid or fix a “Breakdown.”

No matter whom we’re speaking with – from family to co-workers – when we don’t speak up about our boundaries, it can undermine and even damage our relationships. Or, if we wait too long to speak, we may become so frustrated that we explode with those feelings, which can not only break each other’s sense of trust and safety, but may risk people only hearing our anger – and our message is much more likely to get lost.

Leading with what I call a “Kidpower Boundary Bridge” can often help to get a difficult communication off to a more productive start. Examples of this Bridge might be, “I understand that you are really busy.” Or, “I appreciate how hard you work.” Or, “I know you think this is just a joke. ”

Next, connect the Bridge to your Boundary with an “And” – NOT a “But.” Research shows that saying “But” will erase the positive connection you are trying to establish. To put this tool into a context, we recommend the following 7 Positive Communication Steps that can help to express our boundaries in ways others are more likely to hear:

1. Wait until you calm down enough to express your boundary calmly and respectfully.

2. Try to make a time when the other person is more likely to be able to listen. If it is not an emergency, wait to state concerns until everyone is rested. You might start with, “There is something I’ve been wanting to talk about.”

3. Lead with a “Boundary Bridge” expressing caring, understanding, and/or appreciation before telling someone that you want them to change their behavior.

4. State your feelings or the situation in non-blaming language. You can do with simple statement starting with: “And, I feel …” Or, “And, it seems to me that…” Or, “And the rules here are that …”

5. In a non-attacking way, state the specific behavior you are concerned about. For example, “I feel sad when you look away while I am talking with you.” Or, “It seems to me that you act upset with people when we are under pressure.” Or, “Our values here are that we will not make negative jokes about people’s differences.”

6. State the specific behavior you’d like to see. “Would you please wait until I’m done speaking before jumping in with your ideas.” Or, “It would work better for me if you would express your concern in a calm and kind voice.” Or, “I would greatly appreciate it if you would allow extra time to avoid being late.”

7. Be prepared to persist with positive responses to negative reactions. It is normal for someone to have negative reactions to our boundary communications at first. Most of us don’t like being told what to do or to learn that other people are unhappy with us for any reason. Rather than being disappointed, we can prepare ourselves with potential reactions to these negative reactions. And, we can choose to be pleasantly surprised when someone listens right away and says, “Thank you for telling me!”

Be sure to keep your statements simple without justifying, building a case, or over-explaining. This is easier to do if you write out ahead of time what you want to say and how you want to persist; and then practice.

To learn more helpful tips and best practices, see Fullpower Boundaries with People We Know and Teenpower Boundaries With People You Know.

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Published: March 27, 2019   |   Last Updated: January 7, 2021

Kidpower Founder and Executive Irene van der Zande is a master at teaching safety through stories and practices and at inspiring others to do the same. Her child protection and personal safety expertise has been featured by USA Today, CNN, Today Moms, the LA Times, and The Wall Street Journal. Publications include: cartoon-illustrated Kidpower Safety Comics and Kidpower Teaching Books curriculum; Bullying: What Adults Need to Know and Do to Keep Kids Safe; the Relationship Safety Skills Handbook for Teens and Adults; Earliest Teachable Moment: Personal Safety for Babies, Toddlers, and Preschoolers; The Kidpower Book for Caring Adults: Personal Safety, Self-Protection, Confidence, and Advocacy for Young People, and the Amazon Best Seller Doing Right by Our Kids: Protecting Child Safety at All Levels.