Boundary setting is one way to reduce the stress in your life. There are lots of boundaries and many ways to set them. The broken record technique is a tool to use with the person who pulls you into endless arguments that go nowhere. The main principle is repetition. Like a broken record, which continually loops back to the same spot, using the same words repeatedly to convey your message is an effective response.
Do you keep trying to explain something to someone and end up in hours long arguments that have no resolution? Is there a difficult person in your life that keeps trying to persuade you by wearing you down with reasons why? It may be time to use the broken record technique. (Note: this is for the person who is annoying or harassing you, not for someone who is genuinely dangerous. If there is someone in your life who is dangerous, please seek help from law enforcement or an expert in coping with domestic violence.)
Step 1: Vent. Sit down by yourself with a pad of paper and a pen and write down everything you have to say to this person about this situation. Just dump it all out in print.
Step 2: Clear your head. Go get a drink of water and stretch your legs. Take a short walk, switch over the laundry, or do a few lunges.
Step 3: Find your words. Re-read your writing and narrow down what you have to say to 3-4 sentences. Seriously, keep it short.
Step 4: Make a note. Write your statement down where you can easily find it. Post it inside a cupboard door or make a note on your phone.
Step 5: Put it into practice. The next time this person starts this conversation read them the short statement. As far as possible, speak calmly and with kindness. Repeat it. Repeat the sentences in a new order. Repeat it again.
Step 6: Troubleshooting. When the person gets frustrated and says, “You said that! Don’t you have anything else to say?” See step 5. If you become uncomfortable with the person’s words or demeanor, say “I am done with this conversation.” The next time they bring up the topic repeat step 5.
Sherry provided home day care. The parents of one of the children were going through a difficult divorce. One parent had lost parenting time with the child. Every day this parent called to beg or demand to stop by to see their child. Sometimes they were sad, other times belligerent. Often, they would go on and on about the other parent, the courts, attorneys, the judge, the cost of court cases and more. Sherry came to dread these calls. Every day this parent called and came up with a new way to ask to” stop by for just a minute.” She felt badly for them but knew there were court orders she wasn’t in a position to change. She was getting angry that this had become part of her day, every weekday. She had considered no longer watching this child. Finally, Sherry wrote down her “broken record”. It was: “I am sorry this situation is so complicated. Your child is doing well today. I have to follow the court rules that I can’t change. I need to go; I have to watch the kids.” She read this the first time and the parent ignored her and explained how unfair the judge was. Sherry simply re-read the post-it note. Then she said the last line again and got off the phone. The next day, the parent called again and she re-read the post-it note to them. They were silent then said, “so, you agree that I am a lousy parent”. Sherry decided not to argue and instead read the note starting with “I have to follow the court rules…” The third day the parent called and Sherry started to read the note. The parent hung up.
“Pat” kept texting Carlos, asking for help with a situation that they wanted fixed. Their texts came at all hours of the day and night. They alternated between verbal abuse and sweet talk. He didn’t want to block or delete their number, as there were times he needed to communicate with them. He wrote down everything he had to say and shrunk it down to something like, “While I am involved, I am not the person who can change things. To make a difference you need to contact the person in charge, here is their number… You can change things, but you need to go through official channels. I hope you work things out.” He put it this message in his notes app on his phone. Every time Pat texted him about the situation, he sent back the same text. Copy, paste, send. They never did fix the situation, but Carlos didn’t get pulled into arguments or feel bad about not “helping.”
The broken record technique is helpful in responding to people who are not honoring the boundaries you have set. It also works with children as they first learn boundaries. An adult might say to a child, “You can have screen time as soon as your shoes are put away. When your shoes are back in their cubby you can have the tablet.” They would then repeat this as the child offers their varied objections – It is not fair. They can put away shoes while they watch the tablet. So and so’s parent lets them.
Boundary tending can be exhausting. Having multiple tools available to you makes the work easier. I hope this tool helps you when that one person simply isn’t getting it. To use the broken record technique, follow the steps outlined in this blog, or use this tool to help guide your process.