Limit setting involves offering a person choices and consequences as a means of de-escalating their defensive behavior. CPI defines effective limits as clear, simple, reasonable, and enforceable. Sounds straightforward enough, but as CPI’s Pam Sikorski has observed, 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, toward 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.
Here are just a few of the situations that staff have sought out CPI training to better manage:
  • Mediating a fight between warehouse employees
  • De-escalating a resident who has the potential to harm themselves
  • Re-directing a child who isn’t following parental instruction
  • Confronting a shoplifter in a retail setting
  • Communicating with a loved one who has dementia
  • Talking with an employee who is suspected of workplace substance abuse
  • Guiding a child with an autism spectrum disorder through classroom activities
  • Maintaining a safe hospital waiting area
  • Offering resolution to a dissatisfied customer
  • Providing trauma-informed care to a young adult in an ICU who needs a physical exam

Why is training such an integral part of conflict management? My favorite example comes from a musician I met who emphasized getting classical training before exploring improvisational jazz. She felt that those strong technical skills enabled her to be more consistently creative in her career. Because her skills were so rooted in the core principles of music theory, she never felt uncertain of where a performance was going when she didn’t have sheet music to guide her—mastering the science of musical composition allowed her to master the art of musical creativity.
It’s much the same when it comes to the art of setting limits—when you ground your skillset in the basic science of human behavior, you can tailor those core strategies to the specific nuances of any number of real-life situations.
In Nonviolent Crisis Intervention® 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, no two conversations may 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.

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 behavior, too. When a person displays Anxiety, or begins to escalate into Defensive behavior, they might not be able to process your words. But they can very clearly perceive tone of voice and body language.
Defensive behavior 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.

Think back to some of those examples at the beginning of the post. Does understanding more about how to react to defensive behavior 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.