Setting Limits: Solutions Beyond Words

9 May 2018
Hands clasped together

Limit setting involves offering a person choices and consequences as a means of de-escalating their Defensive behaviour. CPI defines effective limits as clear, simple, reasonable and enforceable. Sounds straightforward enough, but limit setting done right is more art than science.

When faced with real life conflict, it can seem daunting to engage with a person or situation that’s escalating toward crisis, especially when your goal is to help steer things in the opposite direction, towards a safe, positive resolution. That’s why no matter what field you work in, training for crisis prevention and safe intervention is an absolute necessity.

Why is training such an integral part of conflict management? It's all about having the right tools and skills at your fingertips that provide you with the confidence to deal with escalating behaviour and crises. When you ground your skillset in the basic science of human behaviour, you can tailor those core strategies to the specific nuances of any number of real-life situations.

In MAPA® implementation, you will be trained in both evidence-based concepts and in-depth practical application, so that when you encounter a crisis in your day-to-day experience, your instincts are rooted and ready to guide you towards an outcome of Care, Welfare, Safety, and SecuritySM .
When it comes to limit setting, it's likely that no two conversations will sound alike, but the guiding principles behind them will be identical no matter what kind of situation you’re attempting to navigate. With CPI training, you’ll learn to rationally detach from the intense emotions of a crisis situation, default to a positive approach instead of a negative one and learn to offer options instead of ultimatums when you need to set limits with an individual who is escalating.

Try Setting Positive Limits and You'll See the Effects of Offering Choices Rather Than Ultimatums
A person refuses to: Negative Limit: Positive Limit:
Do classwork. If you don't finish your work, you won't have any free time. After your work is done, you'll have five minutes of free time.
Put phone away. If you don't put your phone away, you'll go to the office. Would you like to put your phone away or go to the office?
Stop yelling. If you don't stop yelling, you'll have to leave. When you stop yelling, we can find a solution to what's bothering you.

Words can only do so much—effective limit setting isn’t just a spoken language. It requires that you adjust the nonverbal and paraverbal elements of your behaviour, too. When a person displays Anxiety, or begins to escalate into Defensive behaviour, they might not be able to process your words. But they can very clearly perceive tone of voice and body language.
Defensive behaviour can take a lot of different forms, but its purpose is the same. It’s intended to prevent you from seeing what’s happening under the surface, like the ice layer on a wintry lake. But the right elements can break through that surface—and your response to crisis and its Precipitating Factors should be one of them. Words are not enough to change the nature of a situation; you must show as much as you tell. Think about a time when you distrusted somebody’s verbal message because their tone belied the words they were saying to you, or because their physical proximity was too intimidating to pay attention to what they were saying.

Try These Tips for Showing and Telling Someone That You're Here to Help
1. Watch your facial expressions and body language.
Keep your movements calm and neutral.

4. Offer two positive choices.
"Which do you want to do first, brush your teeth or get dressed?"
2. Be mindful of the tone, volume and cadence of your voice.
How you say what you say is as important as what you say.

5. Or, give and encourage one positive choice.
Do this before introducing any consequences or negative choices.
3. Say what's allowed without telling the person what to do.
"We can talk after this", rather than "You need to be quiet".

6. Be prepared to redirect the person back to the topic at hand.
If they focus on another issue, help them refocus on the desired outcome.

Does understanding more about how to react to Defensive behaviour and set limits help you feel more empowered to be an active participant in crisis prevention? Conflict doesn’t have to be daunting if you know how to prevent it, and if you’re trained to intervene in a way that preserves and enhances the Care, Welfare, Safety, and SecuritySM of those involved. Strengthening your skills in setting limits with others is an excellent way to change the way you see conflict and crisis, and make your corner of the world a safer and more positive place.

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(NOTE: An extended version of this blog originally appeared on our US website)