An awesome opportunity to practice different kinds of boundary setting, and to see how other folks do it. The debrief is a really valuable space to share useful tools.
A cleared area on the floor where participants can sit in a tight circle, cross-legged, with knees practically touching their neighbors’. Can also be done in chairs. Two instructors. How long it takes depends on how many people you’ve got, but the exercise itself moves pretty fast. Debrief can take anywhere from 5-20 minutes.
“This is called the Hand on the Knee Game. We’re going to take turns going around in a circle, putting our hand on the knee of the person next to us. And, for the purposes of this game, the owner of the knee does not want the hand there. So we’ll get a chance to try out some different boundary setting techniques to let the other person know that we don’t want their hand on our knee.
“First round, we’ll do this non-verbally, not speaking. What are some ways you could communicate this boundary without speaking?” Take a few examples [such as: glaring, moving their hand, moving your knee, coughing on them, etc.]. “This round, the person with the hand is going to respect the boundary as soon as it’s set, and remove your hand. Ready?” Each round is started by an instructor demonstrating with another instructor. Keep going around the room so everyone gets a chance. Maintain a relaxed yet sober demeanor when nervous giggle bouts erupt.
Second round: “Now we’re going to do it again, in the other direction, and this time we’re going to set a verbal boundary. What are some things you could say to communicate this boundary?” Take a few examples [such as: “move your hand,” “don’t touch me,” etc.]. “Again, the person with the hand is going to respect the boundary. Ready?” And go.
Third round: “This time, we’re going to step it up a bit. Has anyone ever had an experience where you set a boundary with someone, but they just kept on coming like they didn’t even notice? Well, now we’ll get a chance to practice with that. This time, you’ll get to use both verbal and nonverbal techniques to be super clear in communicating your boundary. Try different tactics, vary your level of intensity, this is a good opportunity to experiment. And the person with the hand, now you’re going to hold out a bit, make them convince you they’re serious before you remove your hand. Okay, ready?”
When it’s over, have everyone thank both of their neighbors. Then, move into debrief. Some questions to ask:
“How did it feel to have your boundary crossed?”
“How did it feel to cross someone’s boundary?”
With this conversation, we reinforce the point that we all have a responsibility to respect other people’s boundaries just as we’d like our own respected. All of us may sometimes find ourselves on the other side, unintentionally pushing someone in a way that they find uncomfortable, and this is a good opportunity to get a gut-level feel for what that’s like, and to reassess how we want to handle that when we become aware it’s happening. A facilitator’s brief personal example is helpful here. None of us are perfect!
“What were some techniques people used that seemed especially effective?”
Affirm the tools people came up with. Emphasize the power of a consistent message: body language, words, tone of voice, facial expression, gaze all saying the same thing. Remind folks it can be okay to use humor; to lie; to ‘make a scene’; to refuse to provide a reason for the boundary. It’s not necessarily bad to act nice and smile, as many socialized females have been trained to do — but it’s also vital to feel empowered to act ‘rude’ and fierce.
This debrief leads nicely into the Four Skills, as they’ve mostly just been demonstrated by participants in the Hand on the Knee Game.