Conversational Boundaries

Have you ever found yourself stuck in conversation hell? 

You know what I’m talking about. Maybe it’s a co-worker, an acquaintance, a stranger, or a family member, but somehow you’re bombarded with intrusive questions, inappropriate comments, off-color jokes, or downright unacceptable behaviors that make you wish the floor would just open up and swallow you.

You don’t want to be rude but…HOW do you get out of this impossible situation? 

I am excited to share some practical conversational boundary skills and social strategies with you so you can get empowered to manage any uncomfortable situations that come your way. 

My hope is that this will raise your awareness around things you can do when it comes to setting boundaries and to give you some practical techniques to use so you’ll never get cornered in a conversation you don’t want to be in again. 

We all have those people in our lives that always seem to ask things like…Why don’t you have kids? Where’s the guy you brought to this party last year? I heard you got let go from your job…what happened? 

Ughhhhh. It’s questions like these coming from people who are definitely NOT in the VIP section of our lives that I consider conversational boundary violations. Since I’m obsessed with creating, setting, and maintaining healthy boundaries, I’ve got some tools in my toolbelt to empower you so you can be empowered in any conversation, no matter who you’re talking to!

There are ways of keeping the peace with people who overstep your boundaries in a conversation. You CAN do it in a way that is respectful, kind and won’t leave you with a vulnerability hangover from unintentional oversharing. 

Let’s dive into some strategies:

You can opt-out of the conversation. 

Remember that it is absolutely your right to leave any conversation you don’t want to be in. You can make a simple excuse to opt-out like, “Excuse me, but I need to use the restroom” or “I’m going to refresh my drink” or “It’s getting late and I’ve got to go”. 

Not everyone in the world deserves your balls-to-the-wall truth. You don’t need to convince Uncle Bob why he’s a drag to talk to or overly explain yourself or your decisions. It’s not your job. 

Keep in mind it’s important to be discerning about who we’re talking to because what’s appropriate in one situation (personal) might not be appropriate in another (professional), but you can choose to opt-out without a lengthy explanation for doing so in most situations. 

You can change the subject with a redirect. So much of the time, especially if someone is asking you intrusive questions, they might not be tuned into your energy or might just be a little tone-deaf. It happens. Remember: you don’t need to answer any questions you don’t want to! 

In this case, you can ignore the question and change the subject to something else or ask them a question about themselves. People love to talk about themselves and I’ve found when I redirect in this way, the conversation just moves on. And if they persist, keep reading, because it is not your job to scratch someone else’s morbid curiosity itch. 

You can flip the script. 

Kasia Urbaniak, a power dynamic expert whose work I love and deeply admire, taught me this simple and yet brilliant strategy. You question the other person’s question. 

Here’s how it works: When someone asks you something that is intrusive or uncomfortable that you don’t want to answer, you simply ask them,

“Why would you ask me that?” Or  “Why would you want to know that?”

There’s no need to put heat or anger behind questioning the questioner. In fact, this strategy is most powerful when you say it in a neutral tone. What it does is it puts the other person in a position to have to check themselves and fully admit why they are asking. It shifts the power dynamic, takes you out of the hot seat, and puts the onus back on them. 

In my experience, people inevitably will say something like, “Oh, I was just making conversation” or “I was curious”. If they continue to press you, it is absolutely your prerogative to say, “I don’t want to talk about that”.

The most important part is that you’re not sharing personal information because you feel pressured to please the other person. We have likely all had the experience of leaving a conversation feeling victimized or embarrassed or even angry because in the moment we just couldn’t think fast enough on our feet. With a little pre-thought and this Flip the Script strategy, you can become empowered in any conversation.

You can use your body language to say, NO.

Body language can communicate volumes. This can be a preventative strategy when it comes to social situations and conversations. A lot of times our physicality is not in alignment with the message we want to send, so pay attention to how you’re holding yourself, especially around known boundary violators. 

Nothing says, “I’m not stopping to chat” like actually NOT stopping to chat, see what I mean? Give yourself permission to keep walking. 

Let’s say someone is saying something suggestive, inappropriate, or telling a racist, misogynistic or homophobic joke. You can actually physically put your hand up like a stop sign, make eye contact, and say “No. That does not work for me”. If they don’t stop, walk away. 

When it comes to effective communication and healthy, connected conversations, boundaries are essential. I’ve created a Conversational Boundary Cheat Sheet for you with all of my best tips plus some bonus scripts for the interrupters and screen-obsessed in your life, so be sure to download that right here. 

I’m curious to know what your experience is out there in the world when it comes to navigating uncomfortable conversations, so please drop me a comment here or tag me @terricole on Instagram and let’s keep THIS conversation going!  

If this adds value to your life, please, share it with others and help me uplift and empower as many people as possible. 

I hope you guys have an amazing week and as always take care of you. 


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